My April calendar still cradles the titles of things cancelled. What a month we had with the last twenty days of March spent in isolation. Just down the coast, we followed the news of the virus ravaging New York City. But up here in Vermont it is still mostly calm and so quiet. We didn’t have the experience of zoom-meetings coming a knocking (well, not more than one or two a week anyway) every morning, or worksheets and expectations communicated by email. Yet the isolation made our already small world feel smaller, and dimmer.
Looking back, I see that I savored the quietest of nice things to get through each day. The company of a cup of black tea—milk, sugar, and tea bag in the cup as the water is added—whenever I took on a new afternoon task. Unexpected shafts of sunlight to sit in. Soliciting requests and writing a thankful list at dinner, when the whining was a bit much. A wonderful fascinating novel on my kindle to refresh my mind once or twice a day for a few minutes. Sap gathered slowly in buckets and boiled over wood fires on Saturday afternoons. Learning French words over a child’s shoulder as she merrily clicks through duolingo.
As it turned out, the true throttle of March was when to draw the digital boundaries. A pitcher of resources tipped forward and very quickly a lake of opportunities appeared beneath it. Initially I was overwhelmed, and a bit spiteful of it.
But after a week, I was able to dip my hand into the lake and pull out a fish or two, flipping and gleeful. A ballet teacher that we loved years ago before we moved from Boston, moved her classes to zoom. That had never been an opportunity before! JK Rowling released unlimited downloads of the audiobook Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for library patrons everywhere. I played cards before dinner with my mom in Michigan, and my sister in Los Angeles, and a friend in Canada.
I’m still sorting through what we need and when we need it. Most of it is lovely, but we don’t need it. And that’s ok.
A few notes of homeschool from our last month and half, below…
with love from
Two months ago Lux began reading the first Harry Potter book aloud to Joan (6). I always hoped the girls would each read the series at an older age—maybe nine? Maybe eleven? I find a few of them scary, and the last two dark. But the girls came up with this plan to read together, and it was irresistible.
After they finished the book, Joan wrote a detailed letter to JK Rowling full of questions—how Hermione is just the best, and how did she come up with her name anyway? Weeks later, she was elated to receive an envelope from Scotland, for her, from JK Rowling (notwithstanding that it was essentially a personalized form-letter)!
This was not the first fan-letter written by the girls and dropped in mail to an admired author, but it was the first to receive a response. I suspect JK Rowling has her fan-response team better equipped than most.
Writing letters is an engaging way to practice handwriting and punctuation. Since it can be torturous to spell each individual word for them, often over the din of washing dishes, I take dictation from the girls, type the letter up for them in front of them, print it out and have them copy their own words down. This intentionality on both of our parts gives the whole experience a pleasing significance.
Here’s JK’s address, as written on her website for fans:
c/o Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
50 Bedford Square
London WC1B 3DP
Curiosity Knows No Calendar
Looking for a way to accomplish one or two tasks with my homebound time, I submitted our report to Vermont state for the end of the year. So in a sense the academic year is winding down for me.
I keep this feeling to myself though, because the girls’ interests seem only to change and grow with the seasons. They feel no guilt over curriculum that was purchased and wasn’t finished. They don’t worry over spelling lists that weren’t mastered, and handwriting working upwards at a slow ebb.
I find their proclamations inspiring. Mom, we should learn about that! Why shouldn’t we pick a new set of things to explore right this minute? Why shouldn’t we jump in to a new topic we’ve never tried? I don’t always have a way to channel their response, or even answer their question, but maybe I note it down in Tiro and make a plan later on.
A Great Book: Mason Jar Science
I’m not sure how long it takes to get books these days, but I have to share how wonderful I found this book Mason Jar Science to be.
If you’ve attempted kids-experiment-books before, then perhaps you’ve experienced that not all the books in this industry are truthful, both in their recipes and their photos of the projects.
Anything misleading can be so frustrating for the parent (lost time!) and child (expectations!).
I cast a wary eye on this book when it came home from the library, but as we made our way through the experiments, it won me over! The details are correct, the science makes sense, and the projects actually work! Amazing. There is one final brilliant element: the author, Jonathan Adolph, designed all the experiments to work with mason jars. By simplifying just one of the materials in this way he makes the experiments seem more feasible than they otherwise would.
This is our four-year-old’s absolute favorite thing these days. She loves to bring the book to bed with her. She loves to read through the descriptions with me. And once I’ve gathered everything we need for an experiment, she loves to do them.
I am sharing one experiment here, with Mr. Adolph’s permission, that is fairly simple—ingredients-wise—just a cabbage for the grocery cart, but fun and very magical with its dramatic changing colors.
When you begin paging through the book together, digital or hardcopy, make a list of which ones you can do right away, and which ones need supplies ordered. Note down the supplies you’ve chosen to buy. That way you’ll have one in mind to do when the request comes. Enjoying this type of thing absolutely relies on boundaries, and only diving in when you’ve got the energy for it.
Each month the girls look forward to rearranging the calendar. It is an afternoon-long activity. They use my phone to look at what day the month begins, how many days it has, and the events I’ve noted down. Sometimes they write down only the events that interest them. Other times they’ve noted down everything I have—great aunt’s birthdays, dentist appointments, taxes due—which I find very entertaining and interpret as a show of solidarity against the list of to-dos.
Here is a design similar to the one we have, a pocket-wall calendar. But I imagine it would be fairly easy to construct one with cards of paper and cardboard with slits for the days. Or if you have extra clothespins from an Advent calendar project. Readers of my blog may remember this vintage post about useful homemade calendars with young children.
Snacks: dearly beloved
Have you tried perfect bars? They were once for sale at Starbucks, back when places like Starbucks were open. If your family is nut-friendly, they are truly perfect. High protein, low glycemic, delicious, and filling. My sister sent a care package of them to us a week ago. I set them up on the bottom shelf of the fridge and said everyone could have one per day, help yourself. One aspect of quarantine is the feeling that I’m making meals or doing dishes for a heavy majority of my day, so having an afternoon snack be filling and easy is WONDERFUL for me.
As of this writing they are still shipping from California, and here is a 20% off code that helps the price a bit. Our favorites are the chocolate peanut butter cups and the chocolate almond bar.
Homeschoolers That Inspire Me
Jodi Mockabee & and the lovely pdf guides that she sells.
A smart mom blogger with older children (eight and up): Navigating by Joy
And a Blessing for You
“I spent too much time focusing on academics and not enough time, setting aside time, for play and fun, and going places and enjoying life.”
-Rea Berg, founder of
Beautiful Feet Books
speaking on a podcast
about homeschooling her four children through high school.