Children growing

Okay, I've had more than a few of you mention that it's been a long time since you've seen pictures of the kids and that they are so.grown.up. 

Tell me about it.

I can't even handle it.

It makes my heart ache in spite of the fact that this is what is supposed to happen and we want for them to do this growing.  So for this post: pictures and updates.  :)

Let's just start with my beautiful Ella~

This morning in church there was a young couple sitting in front of us. They have one little girl.  I thought of this mother and her sweet little girl and what their days must be like together.  It really doesn't seem like it can be possible that it has been fourteen years since it was just the two of us, me and Ella, sharing our days while Mark was at work. We would sleep as long as we could, then lay on our backs and read books together.  We chatted and played and did everything together, her and I.  When Mark came home from work we'd be waiting at the window and she would squeal with delight at the sight of him.  This morning I glanced down the row and let my eyes rest on my dear Ella girl for a moment.  Those days are far behind us.  Now she's nearly as tall as me.  Truly.  It sort of stuns me, actually-- how old she is and how fast this has all gone.  I love her so. 

Ella is always singing.  She is cheerful, sweet, kind, thoughtful, responsible, prayerful, compassionate, encouraging and helpful.  She has a great sense of humor.  She loves all babies and little children.  She loves to bake.  She plays piano beautifully.  She loves to read and is an excellent writer.  She loves being outside.  She knows so much about birds and flowers and seeds and plants.  She loves to garden and tend all living things.  She is creative and loves practicing her handwriting with me.  :) She plays with and leads her younger siblings well.  She loves God so much, and for that I am most thankful.  She is a dear girl and has grown into a sweet friend of mine.

Then there's my Isaac, who is imaginative, creative, soft-spoken, thoughtful, thorough, brilliant, sensitive, kind and gentle boy.  He is such an artist and he loves to figure things out.  He likes to draw comics and writes stories and still astonishes us with his great LEGO creations.  He is so inventive.  He loves baseball and whittling with his knife and puzzles of all kinds.  He is grateful and thoughtful.  He is the first to offer to pray for me whenever I'm feeling sick or when he can tell that I am stressed.  He will come up to me and say, "Mommy?  Can I pray for you right now?" And proceed to lay his hand on me and pray fervently.  He has a genuine faith and strong, quiet conviction.  He reminds me so much of his daddy. 

Isaias is eleven and my most helpful and hard-working child.  Any time he sees me in the kitchen he comes in to ask if there's anything he can do to help.  (That's SEVERAL times a day, mind you.  I'm in the kitchen a lot.)  He is goofy, playful, and teachable.  He is all boy, and loves being outside and doing anything active.  He likes to read, he likes animals, football, and he is a kind boy.  He has grown so much in truthfulness and in his faith.  He is physically strong and is growing such good spiritual muscles, too.

Adelia is my eight-year-old full of energy and questions.  She is so social that she constantly wants to talk and know what's happening next and who's doing what and what did that person say and why can't I do/have this or that?  She is always loudly bounding around the house trying to find someone who will play with her.  She has a great sense of humor and keeps us all laughing.  She loves snuggling up on the couch and being read to.  She also loves the water, and would swim every single day if she could.  She is generous and feisty and stubborn.  She has grown so much in empathy and in recognizing when she's in the wrong, and is learning how to accept no and not to argue with mommy about every single thing.  She is the one for whom I most often take to my knees in prayer for during this season of parenting, asking God to grant me wisdom, understanding, graciousness, and kindness rather than exasperation or anger.  She is a delight, and I can't wait to see how God will use her strong personality for His glory.

Audra is seven and sweet.  She is cuddly, sensitive, chatty and creative.  She is our paper crafter.  She always has some paper craft in process-- and we are all often stepping around her piles of paper scraps and tape (dollhouses made of cardboard and cardstock, whole life-sized creatures taped together with paper, board games, dolls and toys.  You name it and she's made it with paper.)  She loves to be outside, and is also a little nature lover.  She holds my hand wherever we go and still tells me I'm the best mommy in the whole wide world. (She's also currently the smiliest for the camera!)


Evaluating our School Year: Plutarch

This post is part of a series I'm doing as a way to evaluate our school year. I am covering each subject, describing what we did; what worked for us and what didn't work; and detailing any changes I plan to make. I find this process so helpful as I finish out our year and before I begin to plan for our next year.  (I realize many of you have started school already and are beyond this point, as am I, but it's taken me longer than I thought to finish this series, and I'm determined to finish!)

I'm guessing a lot of my readers don't know who Plutarch is.  No worries.  I didn't either, until I started seeing Plutarch show up on the schedules at Ambleside.  That was two years ago.  I looked at it, read a bit of it, said "Nope." and skipped it for the year.  

Last year I looked at it again, read a bit of it, and thought, "Well.  There are study guides.  And we could try it."  So this past year was our first year to tackle Plutarch.  

As to who he is?  Plutarch was a biographer who lived from 46-120 AD.  Basically he wrote about the lives of the famous Greeks and Romans.  

Last year we made it through ONE life:  Marcus Crassus.  

I printed out the text and Anne White's study notes (found HERE), and we slooooowly made our way through it.  Once a week, I pulled the pages out and I'd read a paragraph.  After reading, I would call on one of the older kids to narrate it back to me.  (If they looked confused, I would try to narrate it.)  We might do another two or three paragraphs, depending on how well it was going.  Sometimes my kids drew as I read-- sketching out a scene as I was reading-- but mostly we all had to work hard to listen.

Plutarch isn't easy reading by any means.  And that's actually one of the reasons I pressed on.  It's satisfying to have to work really hard at understanding something and then to GET IT.  Also, my boys, especially, really liked it.  (There were battles and vying for power and big egos and they dig that kind of thing.)  Charlotte Mason said:
Plutarch's Lives, . . . I think, stand alone in literature as teaching that a man is part of the State, that his business is to be of service to the State, but that the value of his service depends upon his personal character."
Yes, that.  That is the final reason we pressed on and will continue with Plutarch.  As we read through the life of Marcus Crassus, we were introduced to the character (or lack thereof) of the man.  We would read about a decision he made and discuss: Why did he made that choice?  Was there wisdom in that decision?  What was his motivation?  What do YOU think you would have done?  Valuable discussions took place as we examined his life and leadership.  
We began another life at the tail end of last year, and will continue it for this year.  Slowly and steadily, once a week.  


Hello, sweet friends~

We're doing this thing.  School is back in session and- you know what?  I love it so much.

Am I tired?  Um, yes.

Did I forget how often it is that every single child seems to need me right now, and all at once?  Yes.

Did I forget how difficult it is to juggle the dishes, the laundry, the meals, AND school?  Uh, yeah.

Have we been behind my schedule every single day thus far?  YES.

And yet, we are here together, getting up early, cracking open the Bible at the table, singing, praying, talking, puzzling together over challenging math problems, cozying up under blankets to read good books, growing in patience and love for one another, learning to serve each other, and sharing it all with daddy when he gets home.  And I wouldn't have it any other way.  These are sweet, sweet years and I understand that even in the craziness of them.  I am so blessed.  I love my kids and the time I get with them.. 

Another highlight:  Last night Ella made dinner for the whole family.  She was amazing.  She had to thaw and then cook the meat and roast sweet potatoes earlier in the day and then layer it all in the slow cooker for dinner, hours before we ate.  She's on for Wednesday dinners for the rest of the year and I don't quite know what to do with myself as she takes command in my kitchen.  She kept saying, "I've got this, mommy.  You're hovering."  :)  And I was.  The kitchen is sort of my domain.  She's done all sorts of baking and assisting and has been in charge of breakfasts and lunches, but has never been solely responsible for the evening meal.  She made a delicious meal for us and we were all so blessed.

So this is happening today at our house:

Our dry erase board this morning

I have been scrambling these past two days to be ready enough to start.  Mark took three days off for me to plan this summer, and even those weren't enough.  Apparently I need a whole week next year. 

It was after midnight when we went to sleep, and at 3 am our neighbor's dog began barking INCESSANTLY.  Clearly the neighbors were not home to shush her, so on and on she went, for three whole hours, keeping Mark and I awake.  I also have a toothache that made my whole jaw hurt during the night. 

And yet- today, we begin.  I am purposing to be up early this year, getting even a bit of time with Jesus in before I see anyone else.  And I need Him so much today.  Feeling so depleted and exhausted and we haven't even officially begun this day with all the demands and struggles it will hold.

And this is good.  Nothing happens by my own strength and I am thankful for trials lest I forget it.

Here is the treasure I came across this morning:
But you, O LORD, be not far off, O my strength, come quickly to help me. Psalm 22:19
I have asked God to stand in and be my help and strength; for the Holy Spirit to empower me to be kind, patient and loving.

May He be YOUR strength today, too, dear friends.


Evaluating our School Year: Nature Study

This post is part of a series I'm doing as a way to evaluate our school year. I am covering each subject, describing what we did; what worked for us and what didn't work; and detailing any changes I plan to make. I find this process so helpful as I finish out our year and before I begin to plan for our next year.  (I realize many of you have started school already and are beyond this point, as am I, but it's taken me longer than I thought to finish this series, and I'm determined to finish!)


If you're just joining us for this series, so far these are the topics I've covered:
Bible Time
Memory Work [with links to all other memory work posts]
Picture Study
Composer Study
Nature Study
The birdfeeder right outside our kitchen window that gets lots of visitors

We have done a lot of Nature Study over the years, [<<clicking on that link will take you to other posts I've written on the topic] but this past year was not one of those years.  *grimace*

This is why: It always feels like such a monumental task to me.  It takes a big chunk of time-- to get all five kids out the door for a walk, plus the journals and pencils and paints, and then the question of where to actually go, and then to time it "right" with either the weather or our schedule or both...?  It just feels so BIG and wearisome.

When it appeared on the schedule this past year, I often thought, "Ugh.  That will take hours, and then we won't be able to get to A, B and C that still await on the schedule...."  As if it's taking away time from doing "real school".  So I frequently skipped it. 

Or occasionally I did this:  "Everyone, head outside with your nature journals.  Find something in the yard to draw!"  But it was a half-hearted effort, and by the end of the year I had dropped it from the schedule entirely.
An injured bird we took care of in the house for a day.

Here's the thing: the kids noticed.  They missed it.  They actually LOVE the walks, observing and discovering new things.  It's one of their favorite things.  Perhaps in part due to the fact that we have spent other years focusing on Nature Study, they love God's creation, and they truly take great delight in it.  Ella has spent a good deal of her late-summer hours, collecting seeds, labeling them and setting them aside for next year's planting.  She is my gardener extraordinaire, and knows a good deal about all the things growing and moving in our yard and garden.  Isaac is often outside, watching the ants, the spiders or some other creature.  He learns a fact about any thing, and he remembers it.  He's like a little encyclopedia.  Isaias is interested in everything; how it grows; how it changes.  He is naturally curious about it all.  Adelia wants no part in any of it. ;)  She may get out the door, but then she'll groan and moan about not wanting to do this.  Audra is just as fascinated with bugs and spiders as the boys are, and has containers everywhere of things she has collected.  And she wants to draw everything in sight.  I forget that Nature Study is a worthy pursuit; that it is something in our schedule that causes us to pause and marvel at all that God has created.

I have this idea that we are going to devote one day a week to just this.  And block out several hours to make this happen.  This will be hard for me.  Generally I have bread rising or dinner in the works or Things To Do That Seem More Important.  BUT.  It is important.  And my kids love it.  And it is good for ALL OF US to get out of the house and explore God's creation.  So that's the plan.  We'll see if this happens, or how often it happens.

Ella, holding a bird that had a broken wing or foot (I forget which)


I've been reading through the Psalms this summer, because I love them.

I am always so amazed at how personally God addresses my heart through His word.  There have been so many days this summer that I have come to Him, praying for strength or feeling the weight of doubts or fears or stresses, and He is so gracious to address those very things when I turn to His word.  I love that. 

One of my goals has been to capture one verse for each reading that God has used to particularly encourage me that day.  I'm sharing a few, here, and then I'll share a couple excerpts of what I wrote from my journal that day:

God, may whatever comes today be that in which I face with a strength of heart.  You are the lifter of my head.  You are my shield.  You shield me.  So that which makes it through to me is that which you have allowed and that which I can tackle.  Lift up my head to You today, LORD.  May I look UP.  At You, not at these circumstances around me which may tempt me to be downcast.  You are the lifter of my head.

You remind me this morning, God, of this ^ truth.  Rest comes from You. And from You alone.  I am tempted to think I can find rest in so many other places or things: in books or movies and snacks, in scrolling through Facebook or more "down time" on the internet.  The TRUTH?  My soul will find rest in YOU ALONE.  Call me to Yourself.  I need You.  I need that soul-rest.  Amen.
Love to you all! May God encourage you through His word this week as you seek Him! ~Stacy

Evaluating our School Year: Shakespeare

This post is part of a series I'm doing as a way to evaluate our school year.  I am covering each subject, describing what we did; what worked for us and what didn't work; and detailing any changes I plan to make.  I find this process so helpful as I finish out our year and before I begin to plan for our next year.  

I was won over to the idea of studying Shakespeare with my kids, years ago- after reading Linda Fay's post called What's So Great About Shakespeare?  I was mainly fascinated with how many words and phrases Shakespeare added to the English language.

However, I personally felt inadequate to teach Shakespeare, seeing as how I've only ever read three plays: Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear-- eons ago, back in high school.  I got through them only because I had Cliff notes and I had no appreciation for the plays at all.

(Also, doesn't it always sounds so hoity-toity to mention to anyone that you're studying Shakespeare in your homeschool?)  So I had an aversion to that, too.  But I decided to give it a try, and I am now so glad I did.  We all really like Shakespeare.

NOTE: Everything we do is what I gleaned from Linda's blog years ago, so truly none of the following ideas are original to me.  

I give each of the kids a 3x3 grid.  You can easily have the kids draw out their own grids, but I have a document that I just print out each time.  (You'll see those in the following photos.)

I draw up my own grid on a dry erase board:

Or, on Mark's day off, he does:
WHATEVER.  Totally one-upping me with his fancy drawings.  Look at that king!  (No, it was actually really fun for me to come home to this ^ the first time he did Shakespeare with the kids on his day off, because he obviously ROCKED it, and I was so proud.)

As each character is introduced, we all take time to draw that character, assigning one character per box.  We've done this for years and it really helps us all keep track of the characters.  If needed, we can add notes or drawings in the appropriate box as a particular character's story progresses.

Gracious! This makes me happy.  This is Adelia's, from a couple of years ago.
I read aloud, pausing with each new character for maybe 3-5 minutes to give us all time to sketch.  [Some of my children want their drawings *just so*, so I often will encourage those children to perfect their drawings a bit more later so that the rest of us can move along.]

 I used to read from Nesbit's Beautiful Stories From Shakespeare, but I've since switched to Charles and Mary Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare
We may do 3-5 characters each reading, and we rarely finish an entire play in one sitting. The following week, I have the kids pull out their papers and narrate back to me what has happened.  The grid format helps with this, because I can call on a child, pick a character, and say, "Tell me what you remember about _________."  And then choose another character for the next child.

I pull out my dry erase board again and we continue reading, filling in more characters as we come to them.  We continue on in this way for 2-3 weeks, usually, until we're through a play.

Example: Here is week two of King Lear, so my drawings have been added to Mark's drawings from the previous week:

And that is how we learn Shakespeare.  It's simple and effective.  We have learned several plays this way over the years: Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure, As You Like It, Macbeth, Hamlet, Taming of the Shrew, Merchant of Venice, A Winter's Tale, King Lear, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (for this one I had purchased a picture book of the play and my kids all loved that.)  I may be missing a couple of plays we've done but those are the ones I remember.  After doing Taming of the Shrew we did rent the video (the one with Elizabeth Taylor in it) and watched it.

If you're unfamiliar with William Shakespeare, I'd also like to mention this picture book as a good resource: Shakespeare: His Work and His World by Michael Rosen. This is a great book for understanding the world Shakespeare came from and highlights excerpts from his plays throughout.   

For this next year, we're going straight to the play itself.  I'm going to choose a play, hand each (reading) child a copy, assign parts and we're going to act it out somewhat, using Shakespeare's own words.  I'm excited to try this.

Please let me know if you have any questions!