Keeping Homeschool Simple when Life is Busy and Time is precious…

Oh, hi there!

It’s been well over a month since I’ve been able to post anything on this little blog but I promise, I have VERY good reasons!
Our family is actually walking through the journey of fostering to adopt a beautiful baby boy.  There is so much more I would love to share about how amazing God is and how He weaves all things together but that will have to wait until the adoption is final…  *smile*   Then, watch out… because I won’t be able to stop talking about how Jesus works and posting about a million photos of this little one’s precious face!

What I can say right now about this adoption process is that this comes after years of seeking, praying, and waiting.  And we are absolutely over-the-moon thrilled and in love with the newest and tiniest member of the fam.

Oh, and we’re also a touch busier than we were 2 months ago too.  And, we had literally 2 days to prepare before he came!
Ok,  we are a LOT busier.  Honestly, how on earth did I once have 3 children under 4?  HOW?  I have an 11-year-old, 10-year-old, 8-year-old, and 8-week-old and I’m crazy busy.  How you Mamas do it with a house full of babies and toddlers?  You’re my heroes.
So, life is beyond sweet for us right now but the stuff we used to have time for and the planning I used to accomplish just isn’t a reality anymore.  As I’m sure so many of you who are homeschooling with littles already know – things are different with a baby in the house!
I thought I’d share what we are doing right now while time is precious!  I’m sure many of you could write this post yourselves and do a better job than me!  Please add your ideas to the comments if you have more ways you’ve worked in busy seasons.  This is just my take on it after 2 months…  my thoughts and tips for you lovely Mamas who might be walking the same journey or preparing to enter in…
Blessings to you.  I love you guys more than you know!

Keeping Homeschool Simple when Time is Precious…

The biggest change I made when life got really busy is that I switched to a BOOKS-BASED ‘Family Schedule’ or plan.  

I have always scheduled Family Learning based on subjects (see how we plan for Charlotte Mason style homeschool here).  Now, instead of scheduling subjects that I need to plan and figure out the readings for, I’m simply working with a list of great books that I read chronologically.  I just pick up the book and read.
I specifically chose the books based on what we were already reading and covering and what I knew would give us a good ‘bang for our buck’ in covering material and feeling at least sort of productive… I selected a reasonable selection of titles then I decided how often we should read each title in a week.  By the way, our weeks include weekends!
I typed the titles in a grid and added the appropriate number of boxes to check based on frequency.  It’s kind of a loop without the loop… no scheduled days for anything just a weekly frequency.  But, if I want to do bible 5 times a week, I will likely end up doing that Monday through Friday by default.
We read Trial and Triumph once a week but it really doesn’t matter when.  Oh, the freedom.
The fist step is to –

Decide what you value and choose read-alouds based on those priorities.

Pray.  Seek God’s direction on what your really want to share with your kids.  For us, scripture is a priority, memory work from scripture, and some kind of short devotional or inspirational book.  If those things happen on a daily basis, I’m actually OKAY with that, even if we do nothing else for the day because things get crazy.
Then the priorities go to living books, classics, fables, parables, poetry, and so on. “The weekly chart helps me visualize how many times per week I want to be reading from each book.  It doesn’t always happen but it is the goal.  
If I really want the kids to have scripture read to them every day – then, well, I’m going to need to read scripture every day.  ( I know…amazing how that works!)
Since my kids LOVE history, if our time is short, I know I will likely focus on some great history readings to sharpen the mind and spark the imagination.  I value the arts and great stories… so poetry, fables, folk tales, and stories about art history will likely make their way in as well.
Hero Tales are another thing that is pretty important to us – so this year we are reading through Trial and Triumph by Richard Hannula.  And we’ve really enjoyed the entire Hero Tales series by Dave and Neta Jackson.
Choose the priorities, then plug books in.  Sometimes the day will depict what you read.  That’s why I love the checklist system with just boxes for how many time  PER WEEK you want to read a book.  So much easier to be flexible.

Look at the list on the far right.  On the left is the book titles, on the right the shaded boxes show frequency of reading (one box per time, per week).  The bottom is some Morning Time stuff that we are really struggling to fit in lately…

Always in arms…  *smile*

Do as much reading as possible together as a family.

It has been absolutely imperative that I teach my three eldest (ages 11, 10, 8) together.  And since at this season in life I can lump them together quite successfully for everything except Language Arts and Math – I love to do it.  It simplifies our homeschool SO MUCH.

We read most everything together.  The kids have their individual reading and there are a few books here and there that we read just one-on-one but for the most part, we are reading as a family.  This is great for family time and bonding but also serves the purpose of efficient use of time and easier planning for me!

Consider giving your kids their own daily tasks charts and checklists to follow.

This has been huge for our family in fostering a wee bit of independence in our kids.  (It’s a work in progress trust me!)  I started with the spiral bound book method a while back and now use a variation of this.  (A much easier checklist that I print out weekly for each child.)

These charts have Individual Work, chores, and reading on them.  The kids can see and check as they go.

They look like this:

Surrender to the philosophy that reading great books really IS enough for many subjects.

You know… we are really susceptible to getting stuck in the rut of WORRY as homeschoolers.  I really, really get this.  It is my daily struggle to fight my need to enforce methods that I think show learning (ie: sometimes busy work…).  I’m always asking:  How do I prove they are actually ‘doing something’ without forcing pointless workbooks, written ‘assignments’, and the like?

Listen, please.  (This is me talking to myself as well!)  I had this revelation ages ago and am always trying to remind myself.  I DID all that stuff. Projects, charts, written journals, assignments, busy work, workbooks, worksheets, you name it. You probably did too if you went to traditional school.  I mean, Im sure I was busy-worked through years of my education.  And you know what?  I retained very little.
I mean, honestly, most of what we learn in our homeschool – I’m learning for the first time.  I remember almost nothing from school.
I was exposed to very few living books as a child.  Most of the topics I now read about are coming ALIVE and staying in my brain like never before and I’m not writing narrations or doing worksheets.  Just saying. I’m just reading.
History, Geography, Science, and most school-type subjects can be covered very well by living books.
Go easy on your family.  Read great living books.  Discuss.  Repeat.  You’ll be okay.

Read when Daddy is home (ie: at night and on weekends).

We haven’t aced this yet, mainly because we have a newborn and our evenings are filled with chaos and a lot of bouncing baby around the house… but, honestly, reading at night and on weekends has been a huge part of our life for ages.  Don’t get stuck on the thought that you can only ever get through the readings from 9am-3pm Monday to Friday.  That’s crazy!

Evening reading can be a life-saver for when you’ve got big kids and babies in the mix.  Let Daddy read or take the baby and you read.

You could also read at nap time.  If that sort of thing actually happens at your house. *gulp*

Um, find books that lay flat.

HA.  For real though.  Just the other day I had a massive poetry anthology propped open with my phone across the middle spine of the book while I carefully read from the pages, hoping it wouldn’t pop shut while I bounced the baby.  I literally had no hands to hold the book open.  Guess what happened?  My 8-year-old grabbed the phone and the book slammed shut (it was epic) and that was the end of poetry because, honestly?  I lacked the energy (and hands) to re-find the page and start reading again.  
We do a ton of reading while I bounce the baby.  Flat books, books that sit easily in our book stand, or even ebooks on the ipad are key for us right now.

Be flexible.

So, I had a beautiful 10-year-old daughter who literally BEGS to do schoolwork.  Not that she wants to GO to school… no she loves homeschooling but she is always wanting ‘more work’ to do.  (Man, I wish she would rub off on my boys…).

So, I actually did what she begged me to do this week and got her an actual workbook. Yep.  (Thank you, by the way, if you were one of the supportive people telling me to just do it on Facebook…).

To me, these are like a Charlotte Mason disaster… the mother-of-all-busy-work books.  Buuut…. the funny thing is,  she loves it.  (Go figure!) and she is very happy to do ‘more work’ and I’m happy to not have to come up with all the ideas and lessons myself right now.  I wouldn’t normally do this (um, ever.) but in this season, it actually works.  My youngest wanted one too and now they are both messing around in their workbooks individually and it is actually quite nice for them (and me!).

*gasp… in our house?*  Yep.

Give yourself time to cherish time.

We’ve been lazy.  Well, as lazy as can be with the circumstances.  But, we’ve lounged.  We’ve read.  We’ve watched the ENTIRE season 1 of Full House. (Wow, I don’t remember Uncle Jesse being so promiscuous! Yikes…).  We’ve all just gazed at our new family member for LONG periods of time.  We’ve had loads of visitors and days ‘off’.  And it’s OKAY.  We are building family relationships and cherishing a very precious time.  That is a gift, friends -don’t rob yourself of a stress-free time to just ENJOY.  Or if your busy time is not as enjoyable as a new baby… then give yourself grace to life as stress-free as possible.

Give yourself a heaping dose of grace, Mama.

Kick fear and anxiety over academics to the curb.  No, seriously – do it.  So, its not all perfect – that’s OKAY.  It will never be so stop striving for perfect.  Instead, go for peace.

Yep, my boys have played WAY more on the ipad than they ever have before.  And yep – we’ve gone WAY down on our reading and school work.  But it’s OKAY.  It’s a season.  And in this season, these things are helping to maintain peace.  We aren’t being irresponsible – just a bit more lenient than usual.

I know many families who have grown-up children who were homeschooled.  Many of them literally PREACH at us younger Mamas to RELAX.  To stop worrying.  To give ourselves grace.  To trust that learning is a journey and seasons will come and go.  I also have friends who have had to take years (YEARS!) off of academics for various reasons (and some even by choice!) and guess what?  Their kids are okay.  In fact, I don’t see an ounce of difference between their kids and most other kids.

It’s going to work out.  You need to breathe deep and foster an atmosphere of grace – for  yourself AND your family.  Seek first His Kingdom – those fruits of the Spirit – love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control… and everything else will fall into place.

A couple (pretty bad, sorry!) photos of some of the books that made it to our book list this Winter –

As a disclaimer – these might change.  Some might get dropped, others added – we are always changing stuff around in our homeschool!!!

Top from Left: Vincent’s Starry Night and Other Stories (I highly recommend this book for Art History and Picture Study… WOW!  Takes you on a journey from cave paintings to modern art in living story format.  It’s a huge book – will likely take us 2 years to read through!), poetry of Emily Dickison (not a favorite but we are reading it for culture’s sake…), Julie Andrew’s collection of Poems, Songs, Rhymes.  Bottom from Left: William Bennett’s  Book of Virtues (we are literally just reading through it and it’s perfect for character study just as it is!),  The Bible Story (these are old school bible narratives with great detail – love them!  There are ten volumes and we are on volume five), Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing (LOVE this book for little daily inspirations), and of course, God’s Word (love our Adventure Bibles!)

From Top Left:  Children Just Like Me and Our Favourite Stories – These are companion books that I got at the Thift Store for maybe a dollar each.  BEST value!  These work as wonderful living books to work through geography with younger elementary kids.  Each Story features a country and a child then we locate the country on the map and read about the child and usually watch some kind of YouTube video about that country (usually a travel video – lol).  Find the Constellations – haven’t read it yet but it looks neat.  Bottom from Left:  And the Word Came with Power and Trial and Triumph (these make up our Christian Hero readings), Amos Fortune Free Man, By the Great Horn Spoon and Gold Rush Fever – all are part of our living books for history.

You just have to love a nice pile of books…  😉

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  • TN Quiltbug

    Love love love the Bible Stories by Arthur Maxwell! I grew up reading these when I Was a girl! Did you know that he also wrote a set called "Bedtime Stoires?" Way back when it used to be a 20 volume set. Still being sold today, but it is condensed down to a 5 volume set instead.

  • Ivy Mae

    Congratulations! I bet y'all can't wait till the adoption is final! Both of our sons were adopted. Boy, what a rollercoaster of emotions. I am so thrilled for you. Folks always tell me (we're a multiracial family and so very obvious in public) that the kids are blessed to have me. I always say–I'M the one who's blessed! Congrats again!

    • Cassandra

      AMEN! This is exactly how we respond. Often people have said, "Wow, he's so lucky/blessed to have you guys!" And I feel weird about that – I always tell them it is us who prayed for him for years – we wanted him just as much as he needed us… so… its a mutual miracle. 🙂

  • Prairie + Sky

    I never had a brand new baby in the mix while homeschooling, but I have such respect for those that do. This was all wonderful and very practical advice for those that do find themselves needing flat books so that they can cuddle a cute baby instead. Congratulations and blessings on this new season. Your ability to adapt and keep moving forward will encourage many :).

  • Melissa

    Ahh, sweet baby hands. Congratulations on the upcoming adoption! And yes, there are different seasons in our lives and right now your seasons is getting to know this new family member and helping him to feel like he's part of your home. Such a gift!

    • Cassandra

      Thanks, Melissa. 🙂 It's an awesome season – wouldn't trade it for anything. I highly recommend having a baby (or 'getting one' as some people say) when you have bigger kids – it's entirely different than when they are all so small… (Mine we all under 4 when I had my babies!)

  • Brynn

    I love love LOVE this. You're doing a great job, mama. Grace and peace to you and your home in this busy season. I'm inspired by you and I so very much appreciate that you share with us these glimpses into your life.

  • Unknown

    This is nice to read, as I am expecting a new baby come May, and really uncertain as how homeschooling was going to work with my 9 and 8yo come that point. Thanks for this, and congrats on your new little blessing.

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