Monday, August 28, 2017

2016-2017 School Year

  The first day back to homeschool is in the books!  We finished up moments ago and I thought that I would give a little rundown of our plans for this year.  We have a third and fifth grader.  My four year old will go to a nursery school nearby a few mornings a week and join in with us the remainder of the time.
*this post contains links, but none of these items are sponsored, they're just products I enjoy.

  We absolutely loved using Waldorf Essentials last year and are using that as the backbone of our schooling again this year. Waldorf can be overwhelming to newbies, like us, so we've heeded the advice to layer things in.  We are getting better at form drawing, wet on wet painting, handwork, improving our Main Lesson Book Pages (borders!) and incorporating more rhymes, stories with props and math games into our circle time.  Without all of those things, it's hard to stretch out the main lessons into a school day.  We still feel like we need a little bit more.

 Our little bit more will be Brave Writer Arrow.  Our plan is to read aloud the bulk of it with assigned independent reading sections.  Last year I had the boys read everything independently (Quiver of Arrows for the second grade), but now I realize it is meant to be a family read aloud.  I was excited about the selections for Arrow this year (and the party school ideas now included), so we went ahead and bought the year.  Last year I let the boys choose selections each month, but this year we are going to work through them together.  We also use other elements of Brave Writer  throughout our year, like Friday Freewrites and Poetry Teatimes.  It's a wonderful resource.

  Last year we absolutely loved the Beautiful Feet Books Early American History bundle.  I think I will always look back on that course in our first year of homeschool as something quite magical.  We were hoping to find a Medieval Studies course that was similar, but the BFB course is for older children, and I think it wouldn't hold the same level of attraction trying to push it with younger kids.  Well, I thought, I have a Medieval Studies Minor, I can figure out a course of study with picture books that will be charming and fun and educational!  I spent the summer poring over children's literature about the Middle Ages and I think I have a fun course of study.  We are hoping to do History about two days a week.

  Other than that, we throw in a little handwriting work, a little real world math, a little Shakespeare memorization, some typing and art and come up with pretty full and fun days.

  Our rhythm looks something like this:

8-9 Breakfast, get dressed, make beds
9-11 Circle Time, Main Lessons, snack
11-11:30 Nature Walk/recess
11:30-12:30 Finish Up Main Lessons, handwriting or typing
12:30-1:30 - Lunch, Free Time
1:30-2:30 SPECIALS
2:30-3:30 Reading/Independent learning/handwork

Specials are Arrow on Monday, History on Tues and Wed, Art on Thurs, Poetry Teatime on Friday

It is a rhythm, not a schedule, so we do not stop things or drag things out to fill time slots.  It's just a rough flow of how the day goes.  Sometimes a doctor's appointment or a field trip completely upsets the schedule.  We just go with it : )

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Morning Basket

This spring I came across the phrase 'morning basket' a number of times. I decided to try to work a morning basket into our homeschool time since we were doing something similar anyway.  We have started each morning with a picture book this year (see some of our Favorite Picture Books) so we decided to just expand that time by reading from a few other sources. What we read from changes each day, as I like to switch them out each week for new inspiration.

 I've found it to be a great way to touch on different subjects that I feel like we never get to.  Like art history.  I never thought we wouldn't ever seem to have time for a subject I absolutely love!

  We've solved the art history problem with a lovely book titled Vincent's Starry Night and Other Stories.  Each chapter covers a different artist, work, or period and tells a story from the point of view of the artist.  The chapters are just a few pages and include the artwork discussed as well as delightful illustrations of the artist working.  We have really enjoyed adding these stories into our morning routine and read a new chapter most days.  The fact that the chapters are chronological and jump across the globe is a bonus.  You sure can tell a lot about world events by what the artists are making and who is hiring them.  Chapter topics include the Terra Cotta Army, the Parthenon, the Stained Glass of Chartres, Angkor Wat, and the bronze casters of Ife, Africa.  There are 68 chapters and they span cave drawings to Ai Weiwei (probably best known for the "bird's nest" stadium for the Beijing Olympics).

Vincent's Starry Night definitely shows up the most in our morning basket, but we really just read anything interesting that I come across, and I'm trying to nudge the boys into helping me pick out things that they are interested in.

  The morning basket idea works really well for books that can be read in small chunks. I love that I can flip open a lot of these books and just read a page or two while the boys color or model:
  That last one is a chapter book by one of our favorite authors, Tomie de Paola, and the kids thought it was hysterical. We have added most these books to our home library, and so I included links to Amazon, but please remember it's a good idea to check your local library first!  We always attempt to "try out books" before we purchase.  

Do you have any favorites that would be fun to add into our morning basket?  I'd love to hear your ideas!  Or, do you already do a morning basket?  How does it work in your home?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Waldorf Grade 2 {Saints & Fables Block}

Celebrating Candlemas on February 2nd
  For our second grade February block we returned to Saints and Fables and Will couldn't have been any happier.  The three part Waldorf method of listening to the story, retelling the story through art and then retelling the story using the written word has been very effective with Will.  He absolutely loves to hear the stories and almost always know exactly what his picture is going to be before I finish.  Some days he works with modeling beeswax too.  He can warm the beeswax to help quiet his fidgety hands while he listens to the story and then he can model one of the animals.  

  I'm still learning about the Waldorf method of storytelling.  As I understand it, it is very important that we let the student come to his own conclusion about the moral of the story.  In order to do this he will need some background information, particularly about how the traditional characteristics attributed to the animals.  For example, a fox is known for being sly or an ant is always busy working.  I found this Waldorf Teacher Resource page very helpful in setting up the stories for Will.  I also did a blackboard drawing for each new fable, although I do not seem to have any pictures of those saved.

  We used most of the fables told in the Waldorf Essentials second grade curriculum and added in a few that Will requested. 

  Here are the fables we covered in February:

The Ant and the Grasshopper

The Tortoise and the Hare

The Vain Jackdaw

The Fox and the Crane
The North Wind and the Sun
  We also learned about four saints in the February block: St. Brigid, St. Patrick, St. Valentine and Joan of Arc.  I had no idea that our American holiday Groundhog Day was the halfway point of winter and is celebrated as Imbolc, Candlesmas, and the feast day of St. Brigid in other parts of the world.  We made woven paper St. Brigid crosses, beeswax candles and let Will tell us all about Brigid.  Aside from St. Patrick being captured by pirates, Will thought the most exciting lesson was about Joan of Arc.  He wanted to draw her while I told the story and I told him he better wait so he knew what she looked like.  "What color are her robes?  Just tell me; they all look the same."  When I replied that she wore a suit of armor I had his full attention for her story!

St. Brigid

Joan of Arc

St. Patrick (and his pirate abductors)

St. Valentine

Monday, March 27, 2017

Our Daily and Weekly Rhythm

  I think one of the biggest questions I had before I started homeschooling, and one of the most frequent questions I am now asked, is how a typical day looks.  The short answer is that it can vary. Wildly.  Flexibility is one of the great things about homeschooling and we exercise that flexibility to learn and have fun often!  However, my kids thrive when they have some structure to their day. That's why we have a rhythm, even though we do not have a schedule. I have times listed here, but we really only focus on the activities and never stop them or drag them out to fit a time slot.  This is more about the order of events that the kids have come to expect.

  I often refer to myself as a "cheater homeschool mom" because I send my little one to preschool.  He's three and goes three mornings a week and loves it.  He goes to the same school that his older brothers thrived at and I knew keeping him there would give me a few precious hours to devote to teaching the big boys without any distractions.  So far it has worked great.

  Here's what an average week looks like at Lyons Academy:

Baking brothers

8-9  Breakfast, dress, maybe some baking
9 - Drive Sean to preschool (the boys do reading from their Brave Writer selections while I drive and drop off)
9:30 - Morning Time - we start by lighting a candle, setting an intention or hearing a prayer or poem and reading a book (Here's a list of some favorite picture books) and then moving on to Waldorf Essentials Main Lessons.  Main lessons always start with form drawing on Mondays.
11 - recess/walk/snack
11:30 - Brave Writer Arrow & Quiver of Arrows copywork passage
12:15- Lunch
12:40  - Pickup Sean, more reading or an audio book in the car
1 - Free time to play
2 - Read aloud from our Early American History book and drawing/painting to go with it
2:30 -  Independent time to practice piano, read, journal, use the Duolingo app for Spanish

Art class

8-9 Breakfast, dress, outdoor play
9 - quick morning time with story book or read aloud.
9:30 Mom to Yoga class and boys to my Mother-in-Law's for cursive writing lesson
11 - Back home for snack and recess
11:30 - Main Lessons from WE
12:30 - Lunch
1:30 - Art class (we use various classes on CreativeBug, currently Lisa Congdon's Boot Camp)
2  Narrating from our previous day Early American History book read aloud
2:30 - Independent time for copywork (any non-fiction passage they choose), piano practice, Duolingo Spanish

Main Lesson - Math Block, Grade 4

8-9 - Breakfast, dress, outdoor play
9 - Drive Sean to school/reading time in car
9:30 - Morning Time with Main Lessons
10:30 - Piano Lessons - each boy has a half hour lesson with an instructor who comes to our home while I work with the brother on their Arrow copywork passage for the week (learning parts of speech, spelling, language mechanics
11;30 - Recess/lunch/free time (the boys are worn out from a busy morning so we relax a little!)
12:40  - Pickup Sean, more reading or an audio book in the car
1 - Read aloud from our Early American History book and drawing/painting to go with it
1:30 Creative Writing/Shakespeare
2 -  Independent time to  read, journal, handwork and use the Duolingo app for Spanish

Ant study from Abundant Garden

8-9 Breakfast/dress
9- Drive to Homeschool Gymnastics at the Harris YMCA/boys read
9:30-11:30 Gymnastics/Sean and I run at the track, play on the playground and grocery shop
Often the boys go home from gymnastics with my Mother-in-law for knitting and write their previous days' narration there, if not we come home and eat lunch and do it
1 - Abundant Garden Science Lesson
2 - Narration from previous days' Early American History lesson

Poetry Teatime

8-9  Breakfast, dress, maybe some baking
9 - Drive Sean to preschool (the boys do reading from their Brave Writer selections while I drive and drop off)
9:30 - Morning Time - we start by lighting a candle, setting an intention or hearing a prayer or poem and reading a book (Here's a list of some favorite picture books) and then moving on to Waldorf Essentials Main Lessons
11 - recess/walk/snack
11:30 - Brave Writer Arrow & Quiver of Arrows copywork passage spelling/grammar test
12:15- Lunch
12:40  - Pickup Sean, more reading or an audio book in the car
1 - Free time to play,  practice piano, read
2 - Poetry Teatime

WHEW!  So, that would be if we had no field trips or special activities in a week.  If we do, we still always try to get in four main lesson blocks, a lot of reading and our literacy work with Brave Writer.  History, art, copywork and science get shuffled around as needed, not because I don't think they are important, just that we do cover those areas in main lessons a bit too.

If you ask my boys they would probably say the week goes like this:

Monday - Form Drawing
Tuesday - Cursive (or field trips)
Wednesday - Piano
Thursday - Gymnastics
Friday - Poetry Teatime

Those are the highlights for sure!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Waldorf Festivals {Michaelmas}

  This is our first year as a homeschool and our first year using the Waldorf curriculum, so we were very excited to celebrate the first festival, Michaelmas on September 29.  This feast commemorates the expulsion of Lucifer from heaven by the Archangel Michael.  This day has almost equal daylight and sunlight and marks the point when the northern hemisphere begins to tilt away from the sun.   As I understand it, the feast celebrates the idea of a renewal of light within yourself to prepare for the coming darkness of winter.

 St. George and the Dragon is used an allegory for the story of St. Michael throwing Lucifer from heaven, so many Waldorf schools make capes, swords and shields as well as bake dragon bread to celebrate.  Since Jack was a little ahead in his fourth grade block, he joined in the Michaelmas fun for the week (as did Sean).

  We made our capes with silk scarves and tie dye.  Using a natural dye from goldenrod seems like the more traditional way to go, but we took the practical suggestion from our Waldorf Essentials curriculum and bought a tie dye kit from Dharma Trading.  Naturally, we dyed some shirts while we were at it!

 To no one's suprise, making swords was a thrilling activity for all involved.  Since we didn't have a jigsaw to make wooden swords, we improvised with something we saw online.  Our swords are made by a small stick as a handle and a large stick secured by twine.  

 Our cardboard shields, adorned with painted dragons, completed our knightly ensembles.  This was around the point that the kids requested we do homeschool forever and never go back to school : )

  On the day of the festival we baked a dragon bread which we feasted on with chili and blackberry pie.  The legend says that when Lucifer fell to earth he landed in a blackberry bramble, making the berries turn sour, so you shouldn't eat them after Michaelmas.  After our feast the boys acted out the story of St. George.  I got to be the weeping princess sent as sacrifice to the horrible dragon.  A great time was had by all.  I think we are really going to enjoy the Waldorf festivals!

:Waldorf Grade Two: {Saints Block}

  When I began planning out our homeschool journey I knew that Waldorf was the pedagogy that most resonated with me.  When I saw the second grade curriculum centered around Saints and Heroes it gave me pause.  I am Catholic, much less devout than how I was raised, but a very spiritual person still, but my husband is Jewish and this is the path we have chosen to raise our children.  However, we do not feel that learning about other religions is any threat to our beliefs and, in fact, openly seek to learn about other religions and cultures.  The Saint stories are amazing and the core lessons about doing good works are applicable to anyone trying to be a better person.  We thoroughly enjoyed our first Saints unit and look forward to working on more stories as the year progresses.

  The saints unit follows the Waldorf model of listening to a story, creating from it (in the form of a drawing, modeling, a song or a play), and summarizing it on the following day.  My second grader, Will, has always been an avid writer and he likes to recount a lot of detail.  The challenge with him has been getting him to leave out some of the details and get the gist of the story written down before he gets tired of the task.  Sometimes he is adamant about including the minutiae and we just take another day to finish writing the summary.  The stories are included with the lesson plans from Waldorf Essentials and we really didn't use any additional resources.  I looked through a few Saints books, but found the material in the curriculum to be better.

  St. Francis was always a favorite Saint of mine, and I have visited Assisi a couple times, so he was a fun one to start with.  Will enjoyed the stories about his birth and troubles with his wealthy father. He was told in a dream to rebuild God's church on earth and so he sold his father's luxurious belongings to give the funds to a priest to literally rebuild the crumbling church.  Another dream revealed to him that "the church" he was meant to rebuild referred to the people, and so he set out to work in service to the people.  This theme on helping God by helping His people was a recurring theme I was happy to emphasize through this unit.  


  For fun, we made pinecone and peanut butter bird feeders to celebrate St. Francis' love for all creatures.
  Grammatically, we are trying to work on natural pauses when we read our work aloud to avoid run on sentences.


  St. Jerome and the Lion is definitely an exciting tale and Will really enjoyed this lesson.  We also worked with our modeling beeswax to make lions.  It really is nice to work with as we hold it in our hands to make it warm and malleable while we listen to the story and then it's ready to form.  


Our next Saint story was the transformation of the powerful soldier Offero into St. Christopher.  Will was absorbed by the tale of Offero searching for the greatest master to serve.  He ultimately realizes that the greatest master is God and serving Him means putting down his weapons and using his strength to help people. 

my chalk drawing for St. George and the Dragon, copied from a pinterest photo with no link

Well, obviously, St. George and the dragon was a huge hit! Will was very surprised that George ended up killing the dragon.  He said he thought it would end like St. Francis and the Wolf or St. Jerome and the Lion, with George finding out what the problem was and helping the dragon.  Interesting.  He liked the Tomie dePaola story much better!

Our first unit on Saints culminated with St. Martin and the feast of Martinmas.  I'll record more about our festival in the next post.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Favorite Picture Books

  Our favorite way to start the day is with some breathing exercises or yoga, an intention for the day, candles and a storybook.  Sometimes we read it cuddled together on the couch.  Sometimes we read it sitting at the work table.  We read lots of different types of stories and don't worry about them fitting in with any of our other subjects.  These are just for fun.  They have beautiful pictures, or words.  They are seasonal.  They might remind us how to be a better person, or give us something to think about.  They might just be funny.

  How do we choose our book each day?  Sometimes we just are attracted to the cover at our library, or we already have it at home but haven't read it in a while. Most of the time we heard about it from a friend or a blog post or Instagram blurb.  When I see an interesting book recommendation, I go immediately to our library website and reserve it.  We go to the library at least once a week and having that reserved stack of books ready for us is the most amazing thing ever!

  Without further ado, here are some of our favorites from this past fall:

This is My Home, This is My School by Jonathan Bean
  We read this on our inaugural day of homeschool and it couldn't have been more perfect!  The illustrations are busy and fun and the text perfectly conveys how I would want to describe our homeschool efforts.  The fact that the author was homeschooled leaves me hoping my own kids have such fond memories of the experience.

On a Beam of Light by Jennifer Berne
  The boys have read about Albert Einstein before, but this book really pays homage to his imagination and creativity in a way that isn't conveyed as well in a traditional biography. It encourages kids to wonder and imagine and ask questions.  It's perfection.

Infinity and Me by Kate Hosford
  The boys had a vague idea of what infinity meant before we read this, but I think the idea is much more firmly planted now.  Uma asks everyone she sees what infinity means to them and the answers vary from an endless line of ancestors to a spaghetti noodle cut in half again and again.  

i carry your heart with me by e.e. cummings, illustrated by mati mcdonough
  A beautiful poem with sweet, whimsical illustrations.  I'm always happy to expose the boys to more poetry and this type of book is a great way to do that.

Stopping by Woods on Snowy Evening by Robert Frost, illustrated by Susan Jeffers
  This is my favorite poem of all time and I love seeing it set to such beautiful illustrations.  My favorite page was the old man joyfully making snow angels beside his bewildered horse, although most of them are more serene.

 Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth
  We read all of the books about Muth's lovable and wise panda.  I still think this one is the best.  A mysterious panda moves in across the street and the siblings all come to him with their problems.  He tells them each a tale to gently show them the way.  A thought provoking serires with beautiful illustrations.

The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara
  We were first introduced to Kazuno Kohara from her book Ghosts in the House, which was Will's favorite book for at least a year.  Her illustrations are instantly recognizable to us, with their bold use of black and limited color palette. We realized that her books are available in Spanish at our library, too.  We love to find good Spanish picture books to learn a few more vocabulary words and recognize the words we already know. It's adorable in whichever language you choose. When I see this book I think of the turtle happily heading home with a book he has fallen in love with tied to his back. We have reserved her version of Jack Frost at the library and can't wait to pick it up this week.

Seven Silly Eaters by Marla Frazee
  This is an all time family favorite.  The story is very silly and the rhyming text adds to the fun.  Mrs. Peters is exhausted preparing food for her picky brood.  When they decide to give her a break for her birthday, they inadvertently find a long-term solution to her woes.

How Full is Your Bucket? For Kids by Tom Rath & Mary Reckmeyer
  This story takes the abstract concept of how actions and words make us feel and gives it a very concrete visual.  I hope we are still talking about "filling our buckets" when they are in college!

The Knight and the Dragon by Tomie dePaola
  I have a soft spot for Tomie dePaola, as he was one of my favorites as a child.  This retelling of the classic St. George and the dragon tale is wonderful.  Instead of fighting they figure out a fun way to work together and still use their talents.  My boys thought this was the best story we heard leading up to Michaelmas and they were glad to see the dragon didn't get killed.

My Teacher is a Monster by Peter Brown
  A chance meeting at the park allows a teacher and her pupil to interact in a fun way, as the drawings of the teacher morph from monster to human.  The boys think this one is great fun.

A Hungry Lion or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Roth Cummins
  This one is really cute and has a nice surprise at the end.

The Snow Globe Family by Jane O'Connor
  This one is just so fun!  The little tiny family that lives in the neglected snow globe on the mantle is just hoping someone will give them a good shake.  They haven't had a real blizzard in years.  The only excitement is from the occasional flurry when the maid does the dusting. 

The Garden of Abdul Gasazi by Chris Van Allsburg
  The illustrations are superb. The tale of the boy searching for a runaway dog will leave you wondering.  A perfect combo for a book that will stay with you.

  This has been a family favorite for years.   When Treva hikes up the mountain to visit her cousins she encounters one troll after another along the way.  They all want her dog.  She manages to tempt them with her lovely mittens, hat and sweater to get him back.  Finally, she runs out of trinkets to ransom the dog with.  The boys love the greedy, fighting trolls and delight in the heroine's clever way to deal with them.  

The Bear's Song by Benjamin Chaud
  This is a book that gets read often in our home.  Mostly to the three year old, but the older boys are happy to listen.  They love finding the bear cub and bee on each page and absorbing all the details of the Paris scenes in the illustrations.

Home by Caron Ellis
  Beautiful, whimsical illustrations of all kinds of houses, both real and fantastical.  A great prompt for drawing homes.

Happy Reading!