Homeschool (un)planning, part five

How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives. :: Annie Dillard

Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all. :: Aristotle

The benefits of parental authority are substantial. When parents matter more than peers, they can teach right or wrong in a meaningful way. They can prioritize attachments within the family over attachments with same-age peers. They can foster better relationships between their child and other adults. They can help their child develop a more robust and more authentic sense of self, grounded not in how many “likes” a photos gets on Instagram or Facebook, but in a child’s truest nature. They can educate desire, instilling a longing for higher and better things, in music, in the arts, and in one’s own character. :: Leonard Sax, The Collapse of Parenting (emphasis my own)

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Philippians 4:8 (KJV)

Allowing my children to engage in meaningful work. Cultivating in them a sense of belonging. Giving them opportunities to create connections. These were the three big goals I outlined in my first homeschooling post. Since then I’ve talked about taking the long view, finding the homeschool subject matter hidden in it, leaning into rhythm to support us, and the “other” part of homeschooling, skill-training. That leaves room to consider what I believe is the largest part of homeschooling: the education of desire, the informing of tastes, the molding of hearts.

The bulk of what I do as a parent and as an educator is this. It goes beyond choosing the best books to the heart of what it means to be a person, the core of who I hope they become. How we spend our days really is how we spend our lives, and that begins in childhood. Just as no one else’s chocolate chip cookies can ever compare to the ones our moms baked for us when we were eight, as parents, whether we like it or not, we are creating the blueprint for our children’s lives every day. Where will they seek comfort when they are crushed and hurting? How will they celebrate the joys of their lives? Will the strains of commercial jingles haunt their internal ears (my own lingering problem from childhood!), or will it be the strains of birdsong and rushing water and wind in the trees? Will their in-jokes be about television shows or Shakespeare plays? Will they be constantly avoiding punishment, or will they know the joy of doing the right thing for its own sake?

All of us as people seek comfort and joy in the things we have known before, especially the things that first gave us comfort and joy when we were young, and we didn’t have the big picture. We are creating not just a family culture, but a way of life to carry them forward into adulthood, a toolbox of experiences to help them forge their own way. As homeschoolers, we have a unique burden because so many of their experiences are at home, but this is true of all parents. Keeping this in mind helps to inform not only what books or experiences I include in our school days, but all of the things I exclude from our lives, the things I say no to.

Helping to create the map of someone’s desires is a weighty business, but it has power in it, too! It allows me to be free to say no. No to the offer of a free television. No to the gifts of dollar store plastic toys. No to terrible books. It also gives me the strength to say yes! To hours spent outside even when it is muddy or rainy, to extra church services even when I don’t feel like going, to huge craft messes all over the house. The same way that thinking about my long-term goals for their education allows me to see how to get there, knowing that the choices I am making every day are truly important takes the mystery out of them. I can feel confident and peaceful in my choices to prioritize the lovely, pure, and true.

I know you are probably wondering, but what do you actually DO during school time? I promise, I am getting there!

Homeschool (un)planning, part four

So far in this series, I’ve covered long-term goal setting, breaking that down into homeschool subject matter, and creating a routine and rhythm for our days. Now I can begin thinking about what will comprise our academic work time in the mornings, and which of the subjects I’ve brainstormed earlier can better, or will primarily, be served in our lives outside of that time.

First I think it is important to make a distinction between skill training and the more esoteric work of education, which mostly consists of informing their tastes. Skill training is important and has its place in the framework of education, but it really works in service of becoming fluent in the means to understand and communicate their ideas. I think when people think about “homeschooling” they are mostly envisioning this type of skill training, what is often referred to as the “three Rs” (is there any more annoying misnomer than this? I ask you). In the middle grade years, I am thinking grades 3 through 8 or so, this is the main daily academic work. Learning how to read and write fluently, becoming familiar with arithmetic.

I personally feel that pushing skill training too early is not necessary or useful; third grade is a good time to begin the meaty work of this, though clearly in the course of living full lives at home they are getting exposure to the concepts of reading, writing, and math all the time! You cannot avoid it, because these are the tools that we all use to communicate and connect with one another, to move about in the world. In my experience, the longer that children are allowed to move freely and joyfully through the world as partakers of this great interconnectedness, the more easily and more beautiful their academic work will come later, their own contribution to the world of ideas.

So, skill training takes a priority for my third and fifth grader. I use a variety of simple games, problems, and, yes, worksheets for math. I am primarily concerned with creating speed and ease in the four operations; we go over time, money, measurement, simple geometry, and spatial geometry, casually and circumstantially. I love math and find it enjoyable to interest them in all the ways we use math, all the time! For a few resources I use you can check my homeschool resources page (this is always a work in progress, so check back periodically!). I try to keep things very simple, and work intuitively to fill gaps in their knowledge or work more closely on things that challenge them. I don’t plan, nor do I use one particular curriculum, but rather use common sense to shift and do things that will be useful to them at the time. Lesson time is kept short, because it can be intense work on their part, even as it is enjoyable. This is something we usually do early on in the day when they are freshest.

As far as skill training in language arts goes, we have used, and are still using, and enjoying, Emma Serl’s Primary and Intermediate Language Lessons, but we also have fun with language, have discussions about forms of language, write codes, they write stories of their own and letters to friends, we do copywork of beautiful and edifying pieces, we recite poetry and read immense amounts, the list goes on. I find that work in language arts comes very easily because as people, we are all interested in communicating with one another, telling stories, being understood! Again, I think it’s important to keep things simple and to rely on your own common sense. You don’t really need a curriculum to accomplish the end goal of having children who are varied, clear, and interesting communicators.

Having the end goals in mind allows peace, common sense, and simplicity to rule our homeschool days, instead of me constantly worrying that one curriculum is better than another, and maybe I should buy this or that new thing if I want my kids to be Learning Enough or Getting Smart. I am finally reaching the point in my homeschool teaching years that I can see the big picture and not be constantly grabbing at the shiny and new, or the reassurance of something pre-assembled, whether ideology or curriculum (which I would always alter to suit my tastes anyway!).

What about the other portion of their education? All of the other subjects I’ve brainstormed? What about the influencing of tastes, the parent’s work of acculturation and education? I’ll address that in the next post. I also wanted to let you know if you’ve left me a question on any of the posts in this series, I will do a Q&A post at the end and answer your questions, so fire away. And thank you for all the support you’ve shown both here and on Instagram! My greatest hope is that you find something in these posts to give you a little bit of peace and joy in your lives.

Homeschool (un)planning, part three

So far, I’ve talked about long-term goals and envisioning the homeschool subjects imbedded in those goals; today I’d like to talk a bit about beginning the process of translating that into everyday living.

My first priority in thinking about any type of schedule for our days is the concept of rhythm. Rhythm helps us all to relax into the security of knowing what comes next, and cuts down on decision fatigue for me as a mother. It allows both for stimulation and relaxation, for refreshment in change and the heart-warming qualities of regularity.

When I think of rhythm, I think of music! Musical rhythm consists of activity and rest in alternating regularity, and this is what I strive for in our home rhythm as well. Activity, then rest. Consistency. Sometimes the rest is an actual rest or break; sometimes it is just a change in activity or location. If the activity (mental or physical) is strenuous, I try to keep it short, and anticipate needing a change sooner rather than later.

I also want to honor our own family’s natural rhythms. We have consistent meal times and bedtimes, with their own routines, and schooling and life must fit around those. Spending time outside is important to me, as is a consistent rest time after lunch, and I know that my children are not up to challenging academic work after lunch. Just acknowledging the natural rhythms of our family allows me to see a framework coming clear, as the subjects I want to cover in our school time became clear with the acknowledgement of my bigger priorities.

Our current daily rhythm looks like this:

  • Breakfast (early, and the girls like to read/look at books afterwards)
  • Taking care of our home, getting ready for the day
  • Academic work, alternating activities for rest and refreshment
  • Free time for younger children as the older children finish up their day’s academic work
  • Lunch (around noon)
  • Taking care of our home, clearing up
  • Rest time
  • Outdoor time (realistically, errands also happen during this time period, but I try to keep them to a minimum, and the girls still get time outside at home before dinner. we definitely do not have daily errands)
  • Dinner (around six in the evening)
  • Bedtime (they are getting so much older! they used to have bedtime at 6:30, but the younger girls now have final lights out at 7:30, and the older girls at 8:30)

That has been our rhythm really for all of their lives, with changes to accommodate younger people when they were younger. A morning tea time and an afternoon tea time, for littler bellies, for one! Naptime has shifted to rest time, and our academic work used to look like singing songs, doing fingerplays, and reading picture books. Bedtimes have edged later as they need a little less sleep. In the summer time, we shift the academic work time to more outside time, or free play, and we have the added routine of swimming lessons, but this framework has guided our days happily, in all seasons, for years. I was so glad to read that one of Fr. Hopko’s guidelines for living a Christian life is to “have a daily schedule of activities, avoiding whim and caprice,” because I believe that having a daily rhythm is a major component in cultivating a peaceful life.

Lifeschooling: A guest post

A guest post today from my husband (who is also a blogger!):

I wanted to write about Kyrie’s homeschooling from my perspective. It’s a pretty good one. My evenings and weekends with my family are the most important part of my life, and I see the evidence of her work in happy, healthy, curious children. I see it in the burnish of sun on their faces, and in the stories they can’t wait to tell me, simultaneously, as soon as I get out of the car. I see it in the projects they have laid out from the day, in the books across their laps (and stacked precariously on every surface), and in the baskets full of pinecones and flowers and eggshells and stones. I hear it in the questions they ask and the insights they unfurl at the dinner table. I know that whatever she is doing, she is doing right. I would not want their education to go any other way.

I work as a “parenting educator,” a title I will speak as well as type in quotes. The truth is that everything I know about parenting I learned from Kyrie: from her reading and her posts (hers is the only feed on my Instagram page); from the many links she shares with me; from the words she uses and the way she moves her body. The routines she has put in place I regard as sacred: I can only hope to help them run smoothly. In fact, I would be satisfied to work as a sort of machinist to her inventions; an acolyte; a bureaucrat of nurturing.

But I am much more fortunate than that. I have been in a unique position to see the evolution and the struggle of her schooling, in long conversations on the porch or in the car. I know that Kyrie has been building her curriculum from any and every material she can reach for (and many that are hidden, or obscured, or even broken). I have seen the strands of Waldorf, Montessori, Charlotte Mason, John Holt, Orthodoxy, unschooling, subschooling, counterschooling and just plain schooling, as they braid and unspool into new configurations, new structures. I know her struggles to come at content from historical and natural and philosophical perspectives. I know enough, from my foray into high school teaching, to grasp how difficult it is to scaffold material and to differentiate by age, ability, and developmental level. I know that much of the last year she has been occupied with finding the right rhythms and that she has often felt it simply is not working.

Recently we talked about what lies beneath all of this painstaking planning and restructuring, and that has been the subject of her recent posts: it is the day-to-day movement of life in our family, and the opportunities presented to our girls in such seemingly nonpedagogical routines as going outside, playing in the river, trips to the library. It is in cooking, chores, music, Church, and play. I see that regardless of the content that hangs on this bough, the roots of their days go deep, and the branches yearn their way into space. I see that homeschooling is not a structure, nor an ideology, nor a machine. It is simply life.

And my goodness, it is work.

Homeschool (un)planning, part two

In my last post, I talked about considering my long-term priorities. They will, and have, changed and evolved as my children (and myself, as a parent) change and grow, but it’s so helpful to me to revisit them over and again throughout the weeks, months, years. But how do we interpret these grand, sweeping statements into action? I like to begin with thinking about the subjects I’d like to cover. Revisiting my larger goals, how might they be served by the subjects I choose to cover in our homeschooling?

Meaningful work:

To me, this has a wide variety of practical applications. In order to engage in meaningful work, we must be supplied with the tools and knowledge to make that happen. Some ideas:

  • learning all types of handwork (both of the more artistic and the more practical variety)
  • exposure to and appreciation of great art and music
  • exposure to and exploration of techniques of creation (different mediums, varying techniques)
  • learning how to read and write clearly
  • learning how to speak clearly
  • chores and learning how to do them well
  • discussion and strengthening of virtue and faith
  • participation in the sacraments and services of the Church
  • cultivating a healthy relationship with numbers, money, time, problem-solving

Cultivating a sense of belonging:

I am looking to cultivate a sense of belonging in our family, in our faith, in our corner of the world, as children of God, and as people within a context of history and world culture. Some ideas:

  • learning about our local flora and fauna
  • learning about great men and women in history
  • learning about world and local history
  • exposure to and celebration of cultures world wide
  • acknowledging and celebrating our family history: culturally, with stories from our families, reminiscing about both our (parents’) childhood and the girls’ baby and childhood, thinking about how world events have shaped our family, enjoying photographs of our family, celebrating family milestones
  • acknowledging and celebrating the seasons, holidays, saints days, feast days
  • reading great literature
  • striving to be a good example
  • cultivating my own continued learning
  • enjoying the company of my children and husband
  • cultivating an atmosphere of joy and wonder

Creating opportunities for connection:

The most fruitful connections are the ones we make ourselves: between ideas or between people. We cannot make good connections without taking care of our bodies and minds, or allowing space for those connections to be made. Some ideas:

  • enjoying the company of friends and family
  • cultivating loving relationships between siblings
  • ensuring that the greatest portion of ideas and images that they are exposed to honor truth and goodness
  • allowing plenty of rest time during the days/weeks
  • protecting good sleep habits
  • learning about how to take care of our bodies nutritionally and physically
  • learning good manners
  • cultivating a spirit of service
  • encouraging repetition in the recitation, listening, reading of great works

I am sure there are so many things that I am leaving out; these are just a few examples of how I tie subject matter to larger priorities. Looking above, I can see several more traditional subjects represented: reading, writing, arithmetic, elocution, natural history, history, social studies, literature, nutrition, health, physical education. But there are also some that are not traditionally covered that are important to me: virtue, faith, manners, family, creating a healthy lifestyle and healthy habits. As I brainstorm, more ideas about how to serve my overall goals and priorities become apparent to me, and as I have more ideas, my overall plan for daily living becomes more clear. I hope learning more about my process is useful to you! I’ll be back soon with more about my planning process.

Our week in books, week four


Transparency: every book link you see below is linked to my Amazon Associates account. Thank you for the support!

Here’s what we’ve been reading this past two weeks; a little light because of finally getting into our summer rhythm.


  • The Collapse of Parenting: I am positively evangelical about this book, as evidenced by my Instagram feed. A lot of Sax’s work here is built upon the work in another book I love and re-read with regularity, Gordon Neufeld’s Hold On to Your Kids. I joked with my husband that Sax makes all of my curmudgeonly dreams come true, but honestly, it is so confidence-building for me as a parent to see the research behind my intuitive beliefs. Highly, highly recommend.
  • The Summer Book: my husband and I chose this for our read-aloud after thinking we were going to read something else. It just seemed like the right time and place for it. We were not disappointed. A friend of mine described this as deep feeling without sentiment; I agree. Also, it’s funny in a dry way that I love.
  • Siblings Without Rivalry: with summer, acres of free time, and less rhythm in our days come more struggles with relating to one another. I am on a re-read of this classic, and have gotten so much out of it every time. The examples given are a little (amusingly) dated, but the information is solid and useful. Again, recommend.
  • This Wheel’s on Fire: I picked this one up on an Instagram recommendation and I just love it. I’m a huge fan of The Band and Levon has a beautiful storytelling voice.
  • School Education: I don’t love pigeonholing myself into methodology labels, and so much of what I have seen of Charlotte Mason online has looked like spreadsheets and archaic terminology, I have been a little wary. I decided to give her original writings a chance and have been overwhelmed with delight. Someone mentioned to me that she thought Charlotte Mason was my soul-sister, and I agree! Making copious notes.

The girls mostly share/swap/read each others’ books (and the older girls definitely still read all the picture books), so I split their reads into chapter books and picture books. These are the free reading choices that have gotten the most love this week. The girls are currently aged 11 (Maya), 9 (Cassidy), 7 (Willa), and 5 (Molly). The younger two do not read on their own yet.

Chapter Books:

  • The Forager’s Harvest: this is a re-read for the umpteenth time for Maya. I would put it in her list of top five favorite books. What she tells everyone about it is that his style is charmingly conversational, and she especially loves that he uses female pronouns throughout the book (“it’s like he’s really talking to me!”). Maya is our resident foraging expert, mostly due to this book and the accompanying DVD.
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: both of the older girls had to check out their own copy from the library, it was far too thrilling to share.
  • The Three Musketeers: following the thrilling adventure theme, Cassidy is cozying up to this one. I am not usually a fan of abridged/adapted versions, but I don’t know if a nine year old is really ready for a full translation of Dumas. She is a great lover of adventure and swashbuckling in general, and I know that she will come back to this one in time. In the meantime, this adaptation is not overly modern, and captures the original feel.
  • The White Stag: I have seen this one on a lot of booklists, and handed it to Maya as a suggestion. She gobbled it up in one sitting and declared it excellent.
  • The Treasure Cave: the girls have always loved Tiptoes Lightly. Not high literature here, but they are engaging, with soothing storylines. My husband is reading this one to the younger girls at bedtime.

Picture Books:

  • Bravo, Mr William Shakespeare!: all the girls adore Shakespeare (we first began learning Shakespeare with this book, I highly recommend it) and this is a lively addition to our library of understanding. Marcia Williams books are always a hit with all ages in this house. Pages crammed full of interesting information as well as cheeky asides. Her illustrations are reminiscent of the Ahlbergs’ work.
  • Time of Wonder: summer is the perfect time to get this book out, a lovely one for younger and older children as well. Prose poetry at its best. These words are so beautiful.
  • One Riddle, One Answer: if only all math books could be as engaging and beautifully illustrated as this one! A familiar folk-tale template with really interesting math literacy woven throughout.
  • Crinkleroot’s Guide to Knowing Butterflies and Moths: Crinkleroot books are all so great. Engaging field-guide/natural science books with solid information about common species we see most often. We have been seeing so many swallowtail and common blue butterflies recently, this has been a well-loved resource!
  • Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin solved a mystery that baffled all of France: when we found this book at the library, there was actually a bit of a fight over who got to look at it first. I had no idea a book about the historical origins of the scientific method and the placebo effect could be so intriguing, but I was swept up in it, too! This would be a great addition to a study of Ben Franklin, or as part of a study of science.
  • The Sea King’s Daughter: A Russian Legend: the illustrations alone are swoon-worthy, but I always love it when I find adaptations of Russian folktales.


  • The Forest Feast for Kids: the older girls love to browse cookbooks, and this one is especially beautiful. They have gained a lot of inspiration, both culinary and stylistic, from looking at this book.

Commuting Listening:

  • Winter Holiday: haven’t finished this one quite yet; it has been funny to be in midsummer outside and Arctic conditions in the van. Crank up the a/c, mom.

Maker notes, no. 1

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Ahhh, just in time for incredibly hot weather.

I finished my sweater last week, and am finally getting around to blocking it today. A few notes:

  • Pattern: Criss Cross by Isabell Kraemer
  • Yarn: Shepherd’s Wool Worsted in White
  • Modifications: knitted the sleeves to three-quarter length (I knew I would be short on yarn, and I really like three quarter length anyway).
  • Size: I went with the 38″ bust, even though my high bust measurement is 41″. I recently tried on a few knitted samples, not of this sweater, but of other handmade sweaters, and liked the way that the 38″ fit through the shoulders. Also, I don’t think I have ever worn a cardigan buttoned up. Trying it on pre-blocking I was happy with it, though it did feel like a bit of a squeeze, but I have knitted with this yarn before and I know it gets looser and drapier after a good block, so I am hopeful it will be perfect after blocking.
  • Other: I clearly did not check my labels and therefore my sweater is colorblocked in two different shades of ivory. Dyelot woes! It doesn’t bother me overmuch, but I also really wanted a mustard yellow sweater, so I am considering overdyeing it at some point. I am thinking pomegranate and marigold? We will see how motivated I am after it’s blocked.

On the cutting table:

I recently completed what would have been the world’s most perfect skirt, in my eyes, if only there had been more wrap in that wrap skirt. I gave it to Maya (she is now the very happy recipient of two of my skirt snafus) and though the side seams are pretty skewed forward, it’s a wrap skirt after all, and what was a midi length on me is actually a very nice maxi length on her. Maxis are her favorite. So all’s well that ends well, but I am eager to give the wrap skirt another go. It was super simple to alter the pattern; I graded up two sizes and also added 3″ to the front wrap. I am hoping that does the trick. I am just in the process of cutting it out of some fun vaguely tribal/native design looking linen my husband chose for me. And then I will wear it with flowers in my hair.

Other projects in the wings:

  • working on an indigo cardigan for my husband, but I can only work on it at home because the indigo does come off on my fingers while knitting.
  • thinking about doing another cardigan for myself, possibly an improvised top-down?
  • cutting out a rayon Carson dress
  • making a Willow tank muslin
  • the middle two girls could use some summer dresses (read: no closures to fiddle with). Current possibilities: I have adapted the Playtime Dress to have no closures, and no sleeves, and it is always a winner. I remembered how much I like the Hummingbird dress after seeing Rachel’s post. This book has been the source of some of the girls’ favorite clothing (the tiered skirt alone has provided years of happiness), so perhaps something out of there. The sizing is generous!