Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Home School Plans 2016 (Year 10)

I had to suspend my blogging routine to get ready for our first day of school, but I am back! Many of my friends IRL ask me each year what materials we are using, so I thought I would post that information here for their benefit. If that is not your thing, just scroll on past this lengthy post!

NOTE: I am too tired for links, but I will come back and insert links for all of the materials listed below soon!

This is our 10th official year of homeschooling. My oldest is beginning 8th grade. We started homeschooling her in Michigan where the cutoff date for school is September 30, and then we moved to Florida and then Texas where the cutoff dates are both August 31. Since she has a September birthday, we chose to have her do a supplemental 3rd grade year in order to be on par with her peers in extracurricular activities and when she heads to college. I went to college at age 17 and feel like that had some disadvantages to my moral compass. So, counting Kindergarten and her repeat of 3rd grade (although we did completely different material), this is our 10th year of homeschooling. Wow.

I feel like that should make me some sort of expert, but it doesn't. At all. So, if you are here to find all the answers, you won't find them here. That's above my pay grade. I just do the best I can to research every single possible material I could use with my kids and choose the ones that best suit us. We have not (yet) followed a set curriculum or enrolled with any full program. We have supplemented with co-ops and recorded online classes, so far.

This is the first year I will be using lesson planning and tracking software to help me stay focused. I decided that with next year being high school we needed to practice tracking lessons and grades. Plus with my husband deployed, any way to make my job easier is worth it. I am using a friend's program called My School Year, and I LOVE it! This is an incredibly affordable tool and is full of so many wonderful options. I was always jealous of my MODG friends who print out their students' lesson plans for the week with a few clicks of the mouse. Now I get to do that, too!

Our primary focus areas for the year are writing and religion, so you will see a heavy emphasis on these subjects. The three boys will attend an enrichment co-op twice a month at a nearby parish to make friends and enjoy a laid-back classroom setting. My daughter will be taking one class at a weekly academic co-op for her to make friends and experience a more formal school environment with high expectations and external deadlines.

My youngest is three. He is tagging along with my first grader for stories and music, for now. I will probably add some preschool materials for him as the year goes on and I determine his interests and abilities. I have used and love Little Saints and 26 Letters from Heaven among other materials. The enrichment co-op class he will attend will study the alphabet, and he already absorbed the song from Starfall. So, I'm not worried about him at all. He's a sponge.

Next is my six-year-old 1st grader. This one needs to keep busy but fights me when I challenge him, so it will be an interesting year. I just read an article where statistically six-year-olds have the hardest time with behavior and academics when a parent is deployed, which is consistent with what I have seen so far. My goals for him are to shower him with love and praise as much as possible to shatter those statistics and set him up for success! I should note that he mostly stopped any formal schooling while we were prepping the house for sale and moving, so some of his work will be finishing what was planned for his Kindergarten year. The materials he will be using (but definitely not all at once) include:

  • Alphabet Path (finishing from last year but in an accelerated/abbreviated format)
  • Five in a Row
  • Catholic Schoolhouse Year 1 (older siblings will teach the art & science)
  • Making Music Praying Twice
  • Handwriting Without Tears
  • Math U See
  • Little Stories for Little Folks Phonics Program
  • Chats with God's Little Ones
  • Upward Sports (soccer fall and spring)
  • Lots of Great Read Alouds
My 6th grader is now 11 and has become quite capable with his schoolwork. I am so excited to see him excel this year! He is definitely my most studious child, and I hope to encourage him to pursue some rabbit trails this year, specifically in his areas of interest. His current lesson plans include:

  • Exploring Creation with Astronomy (minus the whole Young Earth bit)
  • American History: Civil War to Present (literature-based from a variety of sources)
  • Math U See
  • Spelling Wisdom
  • Writing & Rhetoric
  • Teach Catholic Schoolhouse Science/Participate in the Art
  • Homeschool Connections Recorded Courses (writing, history, etc.)
  • Upward Sports (flag football, basketball, and soccer)
  • Lots of Great Literature
As long as my soon to be fourteen year old 8th grader can get out of bed before 10am, she will be thriving this year! I am very excited about what I have selected for her, and we will be spending some time looking at various high school curricula to determine what will be a good fit for her abilities and interests next year. This will be the first year we/she will participate in a live online class and an academic co-op class, so she will have other teachers besides me. Other than that, her plan looks a lot like the 6th grader's:
  • Physical Science (at the co-op, since neither of us are good at science)
  • World History: Civil War to Present (literature-based from a variety of sources)
  • Math U See
  • Spelling Wisdom
  • Writing & Rhetoric
  • Teach Catholic Schoolhouse Art
  • Homeschool Connections Recorded Courses (health, 
  • Landry Academy Live Online Class - Creative Writing
  • Analytical Grammar
  • Apologetics
  • Piano Lessons
  • Electives: Life Works, Thinking Toolbox, etc.
  • Lots of Great Literature
Finally, there's the stuff we are attempting to do all together. Due to planning a week off for house-hunting and another for moving this fall, I am starting our year with a half-term and will not be starting most of these things until our first full term in September. Most will be attached to our Morning Basket time, and we will not be doing all at once:
  • The Bible Tells Me So
  • Friendly Defenders
  • Year of Mercy activities
  • Government & Elections unit studies
  • How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare
  • Bravewriter activities
  • Story of the Bible: Old & New Testaments
  • St. Thomas Aquinas for Everyone
Disclaimer: Of course, we won't do all of the above. It just never works out that way, does it? But I do love that we have a great plan and had a fantastic first day! My theory is that if I set our sights high, we will soar.

Have you heard of all of these materials? Are there any you would like to know more about? I am happy to answer any questions!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

First Day of Home School Traditions

We survived! Yesterday was our first day, and despite being unexpectedly rainy (it rains in August in Texas?!?!), I was so pleased with the fun and diligence we enjoyed. Honestly, our first day of school is full of so many traditions that we don't actually get in a full day of academics, but I am okay with that when I see the smiles on my children's faces. Those first day smiles stick in my mind for the many times later in the year when they declare, "I hate school!"

The past several years, at least four years according to my Facebook memory from today, we have started our home school year on the Feast of the Assumption. It is usually a Holy Day of Obligation and therefore forces me to get us to Mass on the first day of school and gives me the chance to beg Our Blessed Mother to ask the Lord to fill in the gaps where I am inadequate to homeschool my children. Today it was not obligatory for us, but we went anyway. I had to meet some ladies from my daughter's co-op at the Cathedral this afternoon, so we chose Mass there. There is no narthex, and it was raining outside. But I hid at the back near the doors for most of the Mass, trying to keep my two youngest boys from making too much noise, enjoying my little purgatory.

But before Mass, we began our day with a run to the local donut shop for a first or second breakfast, depending on age, as is traditional for us. The kids inhaled their sugar and a few sausage rolls for protein and jammed to the upbeat (but occasionally inappropriate) music playing. Unfortunately for me, the sweet lady who worked there kept giving us free donuts and donut holes as we ate. Sigh.

When we arrived back home, I gave the children their schultutes, which I lovingly throw together around 1am the night before each first day of school. These cones from the German tradition (on my dad's side) include treats, school supplies, and small toys. It is always fun to shop all summer long for special gifts to tuck inside. For example, my daughter's favorite gift was a huge set of colored Sharpies. My youngest son loved his Melissa and Doug Water Wow book! I did manage to make adorable Pinterest-worthy candy pencils, but my motivation was to steal my kids' Rolos later (as in after I publish this post!).

This year I only took a group photo before they dove into their cones, although I typically try to get individual shots. Also in their schultutes were the First Day of School interviews I asked them to complete (I used these this year). I interviewed the younger two and asked the older two to fill in their own. A few of my favorite answers:

  • When I grow up I want to: play (3-year-old)
  • My favorite book: Aggie football (3-year-old)
  • Something I want to do this year: flip upside down (6-year-old)
  • My favorite thing about myself: playing with [my younger brother] (6-year-old)
  • When I grow up, I want to: work at an ice cream shop (11-year-old)
  • Something I really don't like: school (11-year-old)
  • My favorite book: too many to list (13-year-old)
  • My favorite thing about myself: I'm irrational (13-year-old)
Our school day almost always begins with Morning Basket. Today's basket only included prayer and read aloud, because I knew we had to get to Mass at noon. I keep prayers with my kids relatively short, so we prayed one decade of the Chaplet. We are now reading aloud our chosen books both in morning basket and after our evening Rosary decade, because we want to finish more quickly. I keep those readings short, too. There will be more Morning Basket on other days, of course!

Then each child went through their new schoolbooks with me and heard a bit about how to complete and submit assignments. This year was super simple thanks to the My School Year reports I had waiting in their crates. The oldest two were eager to get started and dove right in despite some grimaces, and I pulled out some stories to read with the younger two.

We had a pleasant surprise on our way home from Mass when I picked up the mail and discovered that one of the stories my husband had read and recorded a few weeks ago at the USO where he is stationed as a part of the United Through Reading Military Program had arrived. So, Dad read There's a Wocket in My Pocket! by Dr. Seuss to everyone via DVD as an afternoon read aloud.

That last photo in the collage above could be a summary of our first day today, full of fun and grace and kid chaos. Taking inspiration from a dear friend, I decided to buy a small chalkboard and attempt to post a new inspirational quote each week. Not knowing we would enjoy a Seuss story this afternoon, late last night I wrote:
You are off to great places, today is your day, your mountain is waiting, so get on your way! ~ Dr. Seuss
Sometime this morning, my daughter snuck over and added a line to the bottom:
I don't want to climb a mountain today.

If you are a homeschooler, when do you start this year and what are your first day traditions?

Friday, August 5, 2016

Purgatory in the Narthex

Today I managed, via some excellent peer pressure, to get to daily Mass with my four children. As we arrived barely on time for the 9am Mass, I could see something was different. The church was quite crowded with professionally-dressed, broadly smiling women, and it did not seem anyone was at all ready to begin Mass on time. Then I remembered and leaned over to whisper to my daughter, "Didn't they say something last Sunday about the Mass time being different today due to the teachers' Mass?" She nodded, and it all came back to me: Mass at 9:30, back to school Mass for teachers of the diocese, the bishop. Yikes!

I had a quick mental conversation with God:
Me: Do I really need to be here?
God: Yes.
Me: But I have to keep these kids happy for 30 more minutes before Mass and then they have to sit still and be quiet for what will be a longer-than-usual, barely any kids here daily Mass.
God: But when is the last time you came to daily Mass to be with me? Don't you need my grace?
Me: Yes. Sigh.
Needless to say, after a short walk to discover the line for the ladies' room was at least twenty teachers long, we stayed for Mass, and shortly after the sign of the cross, I had to take my (loudly-spitting) three-year-old to the narthex, towing the (plugging-his-ears-from-the-loud-organ) six-year-old along. And we didn't get to go back due to what might have been more spitting, some brotherly kicking, and general flopping about from both boys. I was disappointed and eventually joined by five other parents with wiggly kids, possibly the only other adults who brought children.

I kept reminding myself that the grace was there and that it was a special grace to be at a Mass said by a bishop, but I was feeling kind of sad. I wanted to be able to at least see the altar! I gave thanks my two older children were mature enough to stay in the church and fully experience the liturgy. Between the distractions of the boys not able to sit still (since they couldn't see anything either) and the frustration at my expectations for a relatively quick and quiet daily Mass being crushed, I was grumbling inside.

But as I sank down on my knees near the pew against the narthex wall to pray during the consecration, I glanced through the floor to ceiling, wall to wall windows separating the narthex from the nave. I was separated from God by this wall. I could not quite see Him, but I knew He was truly present in the Eucharist just a few feet away, but at the moment, unattainable.

And I recalled that someone once shared with me that it is possible the most intense pain in purgatory is caused by knowing you are so close to going to Heaven, to be in God's almighty presence, but not able to get there just yet.

For a few minutes, I gave thanks that I was living that purgatory there (with wiggly boys climbing all over me and battling for lap space), because with the suffering of purgatory comes the guarantee of eternal life with God. I remembered that there would be crazy-wonderful grace later in addition to the grace of the moment.

Mamas, we have all been there. Our bodies often deflate as we make that seemingly long walk to the narthex, cry room, or outside with a wiggly, loud, or crying child. The next time it happens to you, look at that wall, window, or door separating you from the rest of the congregation and give thanks. God is there, just a bit out of reach, and someday we will be closer to Him than we can even imagine!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Inspiring Books for Catholic Moms' Group Discussions

If you want to start a moms' group but your group wants something a little meatier than my simple suggestions from a few days ago, I thought I would list my ten favorite books to discuss with fellow Catholic mothers. The first two are specifically homeschooling titles, and the last two are fairly secular, but all are fantastic!

1. Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakeable Peace by Sarah Mackenzie --- Those who know me personally know that I share this book every chance I get. There is so much to ponder in this slim volume. It is like slipping into a warm bath and letting the wise words soak into your skin. This book could be discussed in 3-4 sittings or split into a dozen. And, there's a companion journal with reflection questions already written! (not specifically Catholic)

2. Seasons of a Mother's Heart: Heart to Heart Encouragement for Homeschool Moms by Sally Clarkson --- With a gentle, motherly tone, this author helps us reflect on the seasons of mothering and homeschooling we all face by sharing intimate details of her joys and struggles as a homeschooling mom. This is another book I reread periodically to refocus my goals to be in line with God's goals for my vocation and provides a wonderful discussion starter for all homeschooling mothers, regardless of which season each currently enjoys. (not Catholic)

3. The Mission of Motherhood: Touching Your Child's Heart for Eternity by Sally Clarkson --- This book focuses on the relationship each mother has with her child and the ways we are called to form their hearts for Christ. Conversations about our relationships with our God, our children, our home, and eternity cover all aspects of motherhood in inspiring and specific ways, making this title a fantastic reflection for all mothers. (not Catholic)

4. Kimberly Hahn's Life-Nurturing Love series on Proverbs 31 --- Now a series of four titles, these guides to the historical and spiritual meaning of becoming a Proverbs 31 woman are beautiful. Step by step they take readers through the Scripture and expound on how wives and mothers are called to serve God and our families. Reading these books inspires moms to recognize our unique role in the world and what our vocation asks of us in the modern world.

5. Any Scott Hahn book --- I especially like First Comes Love and Hail Holy Queen for moms' group discussions, but many others would be suitable. The key about these books in groups is to take them slowly and pause frequently to discuss and ponder aloud the material. And while discussions about our beliefs as Catholics are important, be sure to talk about how to connect the teachings to our daily lives as mothers.

6. Holiness for Housewives and Other Working Women by Hubert van Zeller --- Another short read, this one is full of depth. Reading a short passage can provide incredible discussions about how to carry on the repetitive work of running a household and allowing that work to be our sanctification rather than a stumbling block to our holiness.

7. A Mother's Rule of Life: How to Bring Order to Your Home and Peace to Your Soul by Holly Pierlot --- I actually think this book is best read when you can discuss it with other mothers. The ideas in this book are incredibly practical, but because of my type A personality, I found them too idealistic and enjoyed bouncing ideas off other mothers to be sure my plans are realistic for my family's season of life. But the spiritual guidance in this is invaluable to making sure that, as in the above title, our daily life is a path to Christ.

8. The Woman's Guide to the Catechism of the Catholic Church by Susan Muta and Fr. Van Kaam --- Again, this is one best read and discussed with others. Each chapter even includes discussion questions, and you can bring along a Catechism to look up various points. This is a special way to walk through the new Catechism focusing on areas of special interest to family life.

9. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families: Building a Beautiful Family Culture in a Turbulent World by Stephen Covey --- There is a lot to cover with this book! If you are familiar with Covey's seven habits, you will especially enjoy how he applies them to family life, providing testimonials and practical steps to ensure that your family's relationships are being continually strengthened. We could never read an entire chapter in one meeting, but applying his principles to the domestic church was even more inspiring to me than applying them to my personal life.

10. The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands by Dr. Laura Schlessinger --- I know you are laughing at me for putting this title here, but if your group can get past the drama (and sin) in the stories Dr. Laura tells to make her points, this book provided some of the best discussions I have had in a moms' group! There is so much practical advice here and fodder for wonderful conversations about how we serve our husbands. Just be sure you set some ground rules before beginning, like no husband-bashing and make sure your husband is comfortable with what you share. I found our discussions centered on the positive ways we enrich our marriages and sharing success stories about what has worked in our relationships.

Other suggestions I think would be fantastic by Catholic authors, but I have not personally tried in a group setting:

What other books (not full studies; I'll cover those soon) would you recommend for a moms' group to give a try?

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Easiest Moms' Group You'll Ever Lead

Our vocation of motherhood is a busy one. You want to socialize with other moms, but you barely have five minutes a day to give away to pursuits outside of your home. When you get those moms together for your first gathering, here are a few things that have worked for the groups I have led that require minimal effort and preparation.

When I was a new mother, the moms' group I joined at that time, would encourage the mothers in the group to take turns bringing various articles or excerpts from books to share with the group. Each mom could sign up to lead one of the gatherings, and she would make copies of the articles/excerpts she wanted to share, usually writing 3-5 discussion questions to go along with the material. At meetings, we read out loud, just going around in the circle, each reading a paragraph or a few. Then we discussed the questions. It was fairly simple, and the leader wasn't responsible for coming up with new material each week. I also felt it was a wonderful opportunity to explore a variety of topics, because each mom wanted to share something near and dear to her heart, often material I would not have read on my own and sometimes ideas with which I disagreed but still found fascinating to hear.

Another option that requires even less preparation is to simply reflect on the Sunday Gospel(s) for the upcoming week(s). The above group was founded with this practice and thrived on it. Everyone would bring a Bible, and the leader would look up the passages to be discussed. They read the Scripture aloud and paused to discuss in between each passage their thoughts and how to apply it to our lives as mothers. Sometimes the leader prepared questions or had a Bible study resource as supplement to the Gospels but not always.

If that still sounds like too much effort or might not fit the vibe of your particular group, consider gathering simply to pray a Rosary and then just chat. In a smaller group, opening up the discussion to any topic would work. In a larger group, you might have moms jot down a conversation starter on a note card as they walk in the door and pull those out after the Rosary to keep things flowing. Since one of the main purposes of gathering with like-minded women is to fulfill Matthew 18:20, and Our Lady is the perfect role model for mothers, praying the mysteries together can be extraordinarily fruitful.

Maybe your group needs to get to know one another in a more relaxed atmosphere over wine and margaritas! Moms' Nights Out are a fantastic way to either begin a moms' group or supplement a planned discussion group. Every time I have planned a Moms' Night Out, women come, and even when it's only one or two other women, we rejoice in one another and are refreshed by the night out. You can meet at a restaurant or plan a fun activity like painting or bowling. I guarantee you will have interest, and the Holy Spirit will guide your fellowship to provide each attendee with the graces they need if you allow Him.

Too tough to get together without kids? Several of the above options could certainly be done with children either in the room with you or in the next room. Put on a Catholic video during the Rosary to keep them quiet in the next room or hire some teens to help babysit while you have an uninterrupted discussion. But if you don't think those options work for your fellow moms, just meet at a park. Choose a time of day when the weather is best and get together with moms and kids! We can be nourished immensely by one another's company whether the setting be structured or informal. The point is that we need to get together.

I hope you can see that once you get women together, it is not that difficult to keep going if you choose a format that works for most moms. There are other options, like book studies and Bible studies that I will review soon, but if you are looking for simple, these ideas will get the job done!

Which of the above ideas most appeals to you and why?