September Scaries

The worry about plunging into the school year seems to steadily gather strength like a midnight volcano vortex in your brain, until you begin. Then it morphs into a recipe scrawled in friendly handwriting on an old index card. It will be smudged, loved, quirky in its approach, but very workable. You’ll find your ingredients of enormous value, and the other things will be peppered in here and there.

You’ll realize taking it a few hours at a time is a totally fine method.

Encouraging tidbit, take it where you will: my mom subscribed to an unschooling approach when I was kid. I love writing now (see: my blog, this newsletter, my social media accounts), but I was not asked to write anything before 8th grade. My entire writing education until that point was listening to and reading good literature.

My Bookshop Shop

I’m working on a Bookshop page to gather all of my book recommendations. These are exclusively tried and true READ recommendations. Dad’s Bedtime Read-Alouds. Homeschool Theory. Favorite Cookbooks. Books a 2nd Grader Loved.

If you have a category shelf suggestion, just reply to this email and let me know, I’ll be updating consistently.

The shop: Homeschool Cantaloupe.

Heritage Packs

Throughout August as I reorganized the homeschool closet I looked at my bookshelves with a newly critical eye for whether Black stories were well represented. As we tackle the width and breadth of American history at home this year, I wanted to find a curriculum to help me add in more characters.

And I found it, at least for my purposes, in Amber O’Neal Johnston’s Heritage Packs. These $13 curriculum guides recommend titles for 4th-6th graders, schedule the titles week-by-week throughout the year, and include links to supplementary appropriate videos on Youtube. As in any read-aloud approach, younger and older ages are welcome to listen in beyond the 4th-6th grades. Amber developed the guides from a Charlotte Mason living books approach.

I was so floored by the heart and wisdom behind these guides that I had to ask Amber a few questions about homeschooling her four children (ages 10, 8, 6, and 4). I asked her two major questions that I am often asked; I think each unique homeschooler answers these questions in their own way and we can all learn so much from each other.

  1. Many homeschoolers struggle with anxiety as the school year begins. How do you encourage yourself to take that initial cold-pool plunge back into homeschooling each fall?  

    Amber: There are a few things that help me feel encouraged about our new beginnings each fall. The first is that we homeschool year-round. That doesn't mean that we do more work than other families; we just spread the work out over more days. So we took most of July off, but that was it, so we weren't too far removed from the rhythms of the previous school year. 

    Secondly, I try to start the year off very organized. We have certain shelves for the new school books, the kids' notebooks are ready to go with everything they need, and I have my plans and all of the resources I like to have at my fingertips set up and easily accessible. 

    Next is prayer for renewal. Ideally, I'd start each school year from a place of mental, emotional, and physical rest, and I usually do. However, this year, that was not the case. I worked on some big projects during our entire break this year and that left me feeling depleted when it was time to start our new year. At that point, I couldn't turn back time, so I turned to prayer. I tried to quiet my mind and asked the Lord to renew me. He has done that for me, and I don't take it for granted because it is not something I ever could have made happen.

    And in the midst of my prayer, I also leaned on a couple of close friends who coached me through my irrational "freak out" moments and helped set me back on track. So the last thing that helps encourage me through the plunge is community. I can never underestimate the power of like-minded mamas walking this journey alongside me. 

  2. What's your favorite way to keep a younger child occupied while you work intentionally one-on-one with an older one?

    Amber: I've read so many creative ideas for keeping younger children occupied while working with older siblings. I love to read about them, but for the most part, none of those things have worked well in my family. I would take so much time (and spend so much money) preparing all of these wonderful activities, but my young ones only seem to attend to those things for a few moments. In some cases, it was taking me longer to set up and clean up than they were even spending on the activity.

    I fear that this sounds depressing or hopeless, but that is not the case. What has helped me more than anything is to change my expectations. It is simply not possible for my homeschool to be as efficient as I'd like it to be with young children underfoot. They are little people with needs and desires that will always impede any plans I make that don't take them into full consideration. Rather than constantly struggling to find ways to contain them, I find it's much easier for me to embrace them and expect the interruptions and inefficiencies. I am always reminded by moms with older children that this is just a season, and I try to remember it as such. 

    A few strategies that make this easier:

    • I give my full attention to my youngest first thing the morning before we begin lessons. It's different for each child, but for my current youngest, he thrives on physical affection so we cuddle and stroke and sing when he wakes up. 

    • I make sure he has a good breakfast, and I prep his morning snack and leave it easily accessible so I (or a sibling) can set it up quickly when he's ready for it. 

    • I put some of his toys and favorite things to do on the floor near my chair, and I let him know when he will have my full attention again. I try to never veer from what I say, even if it's inconvenient. So if I tell him that I'll read him a story after his sister finishes her math, I will do it, so he trusts me and learns that it's safe to be patient because I will do what I say I'll do.

    • I take frequent breaks where I can get down on the floor with him for just a few minutes to give him the interaction he's craving.

    • I assign siblings to read to him and play with him outside at different points during the day. They usually welcome the opportunity to do that instead of their lessons (hahaha), but I've also presented it as an opportunity to serve the family so everyone can feel valued and seen.

    None of this has led to perfect execution. We usually don't get everything done, and some days our homeschool feels more like a circus than a library, but I believe that everything is relative. Even in the midst of the crazy, I know that my children are getting a beautiful education, and I wouldn't change our situation or our humble homeschool life for anything in the world.

Thank you so much Amber! Amber’s website & Heritage Packs.

A Small Thing Done Well 

For the first time, we purchased handwriting paper of the appropriate sizes for our three writers: PreK, 2nd and 4th grades. I was loathe to watch these stacks get crimped by cascading piles of library books, so Joe built a case that sits right beside our books on the shelf. Printer paper and card stock get their own spots too.

Our Favorite Colored Pencil Set  

We bought this set of Amazon colored pencils for the girls last Christmas. In our years of buying and being gifted art supplies, they are the best quality we’ve found. The tip doesn’t break after being sharpened, the colors are vivid and diverse, and it’s $20 for 48 colors. Recommend.

A September Win: Renting a Cider Press

Last September, homeschooling friends of ours rented a cider press for 48 hours. We picked as many wild gnarly apples as we could from the trees near us. None of these apples had human-owners who otherwise planned to pick them, but we double-checked with them anyway. Pressing our two gallons took twenty minutes and the result was so delicious. Tart and thickly flavorful in that mead-rich cider way.

Cider press rentals are affordable and have fun, educational, and nutritional perks! Consider knocking on neighbor’s doors to see if they’d mind if you gathered their apples. (While you’re at it, ask them how they plan to vote—drop off ballot or in person?) Home brewers everywhere use cider presses, so you can likely find a rental in your area. If you have a “pod” of families you’ll be checking in with this fall, it makes for a fantastic group activity. The company that made the cider press the kids enjoyed using (pictured below) is Happy Valley Ranch.

And a Quote for You 

My father encouraged me to write from an early age (poems for ice cream, stories to get out of chores).

-Cole Arthur Riley, of the remarkable BlackLiturgies