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!

Evaluating our School Year: Composer 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.  
Composer Study 
This will be short and sweet, because it really isn't that complicated.  The whole idea is that we will just listen and enjoy beautiful classical music.  So we do that.  :) 

Ambleside has a Composer Schedule with links to various works, so that is where I go to find composers.

We listened to the music of two composers this year:
Sergei Rachmaninoff (6 works)
Johannes Brahms (6 works)

I have it on the schedule once a week, and I will often play it while we're doing chores (cleaning up the kitchen, sweeping the floor, folding laundry, etc.) or while the kids are drawing.  I will just say the name of the composer, trying my best to pronounce it ;) and we'll simply listen.

That's ALL!

Garden goodness: Preserving it all

My apologies for the delay in getting a new post up, friends.  It has just been busy around here.  Mark and I were able to get away for a few days last week, just the two of us, which I am so thankful for. We stayed at a bed & breakfast, took long walks together, watched the Olymics, watched a movie, read our books, prayed together, ate great food, and rested well.  It was delightful.

Prior to that I did a lot of dehydrating.  Lots of apples.  And then I made some applesauce:

Have I ever shown you one of my favorite things?  THIS is my making-applesauce friend:

You just slice the apples (removing the core, but leaving the peel on), boil the apples in a bit of water for a few minutes until they're soft, and then dump them into this sieve thing, and use that wooden mallet to shove them down and to the sides, add cinnamon and sugar to taste and you get applesauce. 

I also made some jam and did some canning:


Our garden is growing lots of green beans right now.  I wasn't up to canning beans, so I used this method again to pickle some vegetables to keep in the fridge. This year I did carrots, green beans, onions, cucumbers and peppers (the carrots and green beans were the only thing from our garden.)  

We're also getting tons of these delicious Sun Gold Cherry Tomatoes, which I've dried and frozen whole and eaten fresh.  But my VERY FAVORITE way to eat them this summer is to roast them.  Slice them (or any other tomato from your garden) in half and put them on a cookie sheet (on parchment paper or silpat).  Peel some garlic cloves, slice them, and throw those in there, too.  Then add some fresh herbs.  Basil or thyme is what I have, so that's what I've done.  Then drizzle a bit of olive oil on the top of it all, sprinkle some salt, and roast in the oven for about an hour (at 250 or 300 degrees).  This makes them all mushy and yummy, like a paste.

If you have a baguette or some crusty bread or crackers or anything like that?  Grab that, spread on some goat cheese, and then dollop some of your yummy roasted tomatoes on the top of that and you will be SO HAPPY.  Yum.

Later this week I will get back to my Evaluating our School Year homeschool series.  Which feels weird since I'm actually beyond that, now, and am in full-on planning mode already for next year, but I will press on.  ;)

Oh!  You may notice some changes here on the blog- with design and layout.  I'm working on changing it but it will be wonky until it's all settled.  Bear with me. 

Love to you all,


I had a homeschooling post due to go up today, but my heart isn't in it.

On Monday, my beloved grandpa Jake died.  He now rests exactly where he has been longing to be for so many years: in his eternal home, with his Savior.
Grandpa was a hard-working businessman.  He was faithful, generous, compassionate, and a friend to all.  He shared the gospel with many.  He lived a life that was marked by his love for God.  He'd meet a man who had fallen on hard times, offer him a job, and a place to live.  In his home. 

He and grandma had compassion on refugees, and sponsored, then adopted them into their family.  He cared deeply for the needy, and was generous to all.  He seemed to know people everywhere he went, and if he didn't, he was friends with them in minutes. 

He and grandma had 8 children, 26 grandchildren, and 67 great-grandchildren.

I can't begin to express to you the gratitude I feel for getting to belong to this family.  I keep thanking God that He chose the best of the best, the very finest-- of grandparents, on both sides-- for me.  My grandparents' love for Jesus and lives poured out for Him has shaped me into the person that I am.  I have such fondness, affection, and high regard for them. 

Their faith, modeled and lived out by their own parents has been passed down to their children and their children's children and their children's children's children.  This is what the Bible talks about in the Old Testament when God exhorts His people to keep His decrees and commands so that the next generation might fear God.  They were so faithful, and I am a recipient of their faithfulness.  

My grandpa was one of the few good men in my life.  When my dad left mom when I was just a little girl, I felt abandoned.  Both of my grandpas exemplified faithfulness, strength and security for me.  They were trustworthy men who kept their promises.  They are the men who stayed in my life.  Grandpa Jake in particular, with grandma, showed up at all the birthdays and big events.  I am so grateful to God for this.

I wish this kind of family for everyone.  It's a beautiful thing.  There are so many, many memories.  I can't recount them all, though I've tried in my journal these past few days.  Probably my fondest memories surround Sunday lunches at grandpa and grandma's house, all the extended family gathered round-- aunts, uncles, cousins galore.  Food waiting, everyone joining hands for prayer.  Grandpa, pulling out his handkerchief to wipe his tears because he always got that way during hymns and prayers; simply because he felt so blessed by God's great mercy.


Evaluating our School Year: Picture 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.  

Picture (Art) Study

We do Picture Study once a week.

This past year we studied three artists, and 5-6 paintings from each. We studied paintings by Georges Seurat, Claude Monet and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.

At the beginning of the year, I downloaded PDF files from the Ambleside Yahoo Group and had prints printed locally.  

I want my kids have a familiarity with the paintings and artists we've studied, so I make sure they have a print of each painting.  I get one 8 1/2x11 print of each of the paintings we'll study, and then four paintings printed per page for the kids to put in their binders; smaller versions of the paintings we've studied.  Here is an example of what they keep in the Picture Study section of their binders:

As to what the study part of this all looks like at our house, I've edited a post I wrote seven years ago to describe what we do.  We're still doing Picture Study the very same way, all these years later. 

Once each week, this is what we do:

Introduction:  If it is the first week and thus a new artist, I introduce the artist, giving the name; often in writing, and any biographical information I think is pertinent. Then I read a short bio or even just a few facts about the artist.  For all subsequent works by this same artist, I'll skip the biographical information but note the artists name each time, and recall the previous painting studied.

Description:  Then I pull out a print and hand it to a child, hiding it from the rest of the children, asking the selected child to describe what he or she sees. The rest of us listen and try to imagine the painting in our minds.  My children all love this part. They actually bicker over whose turn it is to describe a painting.

Questions: When the child has finished describing the painting, the rest of us get the opportunity to ask that child questions about the things our minds are still wondering about.  (I think this is one of the reasons why my kids love their role of narrator; they get to play teacher and "call" on their siblings' raised hands to take their questions. ;)) 

Reveal: When the questions wane, the child reveals the painting he or she has just described (and the rest of us have imagined) and we all exclaim over it and talk about it. 

That is our procedure with each new painting.

For example, our weeks studying Georges Seurat looked like this:

Week 1: Introduce artist, short bio, select a child to describe the painting: Rock-Breakers
Week 2: Brief review: Who remembers our new artist?  What was last week's painting?
New painting: Man Cleaning His Boat
Week 3: Brief review. New painting: A Sunday on La Grande Jatte
Week 4: Brief review. New painting: Bathers at Asnieres 
(Mark was the teacher this week, and he let the kids choose a portion of the painting to paint.  I generally wait till the end of our study to do this.)
Week 5: Brief review. New painting: The Circus
Week 6: Brief review. New painting: The Eiffel Tower
Week 7 | Final week: Brief reviewCompare and contrast all the paintings.  How are they similar?  How are they different?  Can you tell that the same artist painted all of these? Then, we paint. I choose one of the paintings we've studied for us all to attempt to paint.  (We each painted Seurat's The Eiffel Tower.)

*Each time we study a new painting, I choose a different child (or myself!) to describe it.

* * *

For further consideration and lists of artists, check out the artist rotation at Ambleside Online.  I don't actually follow the same order they suggest.  I choose artists that I love or that I think my kids would find interesting and we go from there.  :)  I really enjoyed my college Art History classes and I genuinely love introducing my kids to the painters I admire. 

Another post on Picture Study that may be of interest to you: