Homeschooling Slump

My February homeschooling slump/panic hit early this year, in January! I spent an entire weekend chasing after every homeschooling black hole I could find on the internet, looking for a new, better, plan. Searching for inspiration. Searching for something that would tell me what to do to raise an intelligent, well-rounded person. It wasn’t pretty. There were tears and feeling like a failure and wishing that I had thousands of dollars to invest in curriculum that would solve all my problems.

In the end, I decided to go back to my homeschool origins, which are a bit unschooly. To focus on reading, writing, and math, and to let my kids’ general interests be the inspiration for the direction. I love the idea of bringing them together for some of the learning time, but we have gotten into a good rhythm of individual lessons (with the older two girls mostly self-directed at this point) and I’m not sure where to sneak a “morning time” into that rhythm, though I certainly have plenty of ideas of what I would love to put in!

I thought I would share some of the homeschooling resources I go back to again and again, the ones I have loved from the start.

Not homeschooling books, these are parenting books that have helped guide and shape who I am as a parent. Homeschooling, on so many levels, is about exactly this. Family culture and a loving atmosphere.

Sometimes what I need most is to stop, slow down, go back to basics, listen to my own heart, and shut out all the “inspiration” out there. It is so tempting to join a movement, declare a method, and check all the boxes, but for me it always leads to burnout and fear. Fear that I am not doing everything right, fear that my children are failing at my method du jour, and that therefore I am failing as a homeschooler and as a mother. I want to homeschool from a place of strength and assuredness. I want to see the places they are excelling, not always be searching for the ways they are not.

I hope that if you have a February slump, you can take a step back and listen to your heart! It will always guide you in the right direction.

Ordinary Arts: Planning for Lent

I have been gathering cookbooks at the library to give me a little inspiration for Lent cooking and eating. I like to keep things pretty simple, we have a lot of what we like to call Monastery Bowls: cooked whole grains with roasted vegetables and cooked beans of varying types, topped with other fruits/nuts/vegetables. Some grain options for this are:

  • whole wheat couscous
  • jasmine rice
  • brown rice
  • sushi rice
  • barley
  • freekeh
  • quinoa
  • oats (rolled or steel-cut)
  • bulghur wheat
  • millet
  • farro
  • cornmeal/polenta/grits
  • spelt

Here’s a quick chart that can help with cooking whole grains.

Here’s a guide on roasting vegetables. Roasting them makes them so appealing to kids!

We also really love sprouts and will have multiple jars of sprouts going on the counter! Here is a good intro to sprouting. Our local natural foods co-op has a section of their bulk foods dedicated to seeds you can grow into edible sprouts. It can be easy, especially in the winter, for me to rely on roasted and frozen vegetables, and this is such a great way to get fresh back into our diets! The girls love them.

As for cooked beans, here are our most-eaten options:

  • pinto beans
  • black beans
  • garbanzo beans
  • navy/white beans

It is simple and very inexpensive to make large batches from scratch, but I always have a few cans in the pantry just in case.

For other high-protein options, we occasionally eat tofu or soy curls, which are eerily like chicken, and sometimes halfway through the Lenten fast, you really need something eerily like chicken to boost overall morale.

Nuts and seeds are nutritional powerhouses and give a protein boost, too!

Here are some of the cookbooks I’ve been checking out at the library (Amazon links are affiliate, thank you!)

I’m looking forward to more whole-foods based diet, we have delved heavily into comfort foods this winter and I am feeling a bit stodgy. The pendulum swings!

Planning for February

Liturgical Life:

Domestic Life:

  • February 18: Molly’s 7th birthday
  • planning: vegan meals and snacks for Lent
  • making: tinctures

Homeschool Life:

  • 6th grade: Byzantine history, Science TBD, Spanish, typing, literature, Bible study, nature journal, math
  • 4th grade: Medieval history, Marine science, literature, copywork, nature journal, math, Psalms
  • 2nd grade: Cultural world geography, Goddesses, Egyptian history, phonics, nature journal, copywork, math, Bible stories, literature
  • Kindergarten: letter/sound recognition, patterns and addition/subtraction, Bible stories, copywork, Rocks & Minerals, literature, nature journal

Outdoor Life:

  • outdoor school
  • field trip to local arboretum/old growth forest
  • field trip to ocean
  • hiking

Handmade Life:

  • finish birthday sweater for Cassidy
  • block birthday sweater for Molly
  • begin top-down Lila for Maya
  • begin colorwork cardigan for Willa
  • planning: spring/summer clothes for the girls

Advent traditions: pomander making

Every year since I was about Maya’s age, my mother and I have been making pomanders together during the Advent season. It was a joy to share this tradition with my girls, and is such a part of our Advent rhythm now. Clove-studded and smelling gorgeous, they are simple to make for even little hands, make lovely gifts, and can be enjoyed forever if you use curing spice mixture! The recipe for the curing spices is one from this book (affiliate link, thanks!). You can use oranges, lemons, or even apples for pomanders, but we have had the best luck with thin-skinned citrus like mandarins. They take a couple of weeks to cure if you are giving them as gifts; we usually start making ours on the long Thanksgiving weekend!

To make the pomanders, you will need:

  • fruit to stud with cloves; apples, oranges, lemons, mandarins, tangerines, etc
  • whole cloves (we buy ours from Frontier through our local natural foods co-op. This will make a lot of pomanders! You can use them over several years or share with a friend)
  • skewers (the bamboo ones you would use for kebabs)
  • a large bowl for curing, glazed pottery or glass is best
  • a kitchen scale to weigh out the spices
  • curing spice mixture (recipe below)

Use the skewer to make a small hole in your fruit in which to place a whole clove. Even very small children can do this; when the girls were too small even to poke with the skewer, I would do the skewer part and then they would place the clove in the hole.

You can place the cloves in patterns or (our favorite) cover the fruit with cloves. It can also be pretty to cover all but a strip where you can place a ribbon for hanging. Don’t worry about the juices, it will help the curing mixture to adhere and get into all the spots. You want the cloves to be close together but not so close that the skin splits. Remember that the pomander will shrink in size as it cures. In every batch of whole cloves there are some that have lost their heads; we save these and make pomanders with all “star” cloves.

Blend together the curing spice mixture in a small bowl, measuring by weight.

Sprinkle about half the curing mixture in the large curing bowl, place the studded pomanders on top, and cover with the remaining spice mixture.

Each day or whenever you think of it, rotate and re-cover the pomanders to help them to cure evenly and more quickly. The pomanders will take from a couple of weeks to a month to completely harden, depending on the size of the fruit.

They are a wonderful seasonal alternative to lavender bottles in linen closets, and have the same moth repellent qualities. They are also very pretty out on the table in a small decorative bowl or tray and have a wonderful, warming natural fragrance.

The curing mixture will not spoil, though it may fade in scent as it ages; we can usually do a couple of years with the same mixture before it really needs replacing with fresh spices. In between winters, we store the mixture in a sealed plastic bag with our Christmas decorations. It is always so nice to get the Christmas things out of storage and have the scent of pomanders greet us!

The pomanders will last forever once hardened, we still have some from my own childhood. To refresh the scent, you can dampen the pomander quickly under running water and put it back in the curing mixture. When it goes through the curing process again it will be just like new.

Curing Spice Mixture

This is enough to keep several pomanders curing at once. If you are going to be making them to give as gifts, I recommend you double the recipe. Be sure to use fresh spices for maximum fragrance, and don’t leave out the orrisroot! It assists as a fixative and preservative, and actually has a lovely scent of its own. We get ours locally but Mountain Rose Herbs is an excellent source online.

  • 4 ounces ground cinnamon
  • 2 ounces ground cloves
  • 1/2 ounce ground allspice
  • 1/2 ounce ground nutmeg
  • 1 ounce powdered orrisroot

It just isn’t the holidays without pomanders at our house! Enjoy!

Books for November

November begins tomorrow, an in-between month that can feel like we are mentally rushing from one holiday to another and never quite catching up. I am hoping to take November for quiet contemplation, plenty of reading, and plenty of making. Here are some of our favorite picture books that help us enjoy the depth of autumn.

Some sweet chapter books for this month:

And some adult books for November, too:

  • Autumn always makes me want to break out the Agatha Christie novels, especially the Miss Marple books. A Murder is Announced begins on October 29!
  • Food is on my mind at this time of year, and the master of food writing is MFK Fisher. The omnibus The Art of Eating is enough to keep one busy for a while!
  • Set in the depths of the minds of two poets, A.S. Byatt’s Possession is lush and cozy.
  • One of the books I am excited to read in November is Wendell Berry’s new release of a collection of his agrarian writing, The Art of Loading Brush.
  • Incredibly inspiring and beautiful is William Coperthwaite’s book, A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity.

Planning our Geology and Mineralogy block

November will be my sixth grader’s Geology and Mineralogy block. Resources I am using:

  • This post on Christopherus about Geology, and their sixth grade rough guide
  • Gail Gibbons’ Planet Earth/Inside Out. The information is quite simple but adequate; the illustrations are wonderful and will be great chalkboard drawing and main lesson book illustrating. I love Gail Gibbons!
  • DK Incredible Earth. This was a great library find that is composed of cutaway dioramas that are fun to look at on their own but would be amazing if we had time to replicate. We will see if we have time or if she has the inclination.
  • Rocks all Around Us. I bought this one on the strength of someone else’s recommendation and it hasn’t gotten here yet. Looking forward to seeing inside.
  • Roadside Geology of Oregon. This one is really just for me. I read it over a decade ago on the recommendation of a friend of mine who is a professional geologist, and I am revisiting it to be knowledgable in local geological interest points. I believe there is a Roadside Geology book for every state.

It’s just a three week block before Thanksgiving, so my plan is as follows:

Week one: The globe as a whole.

Topics to cover:

  • Layers of the earth
  • Panagea
  • Tectonic plates
  • Pacific Ring of Fire

Week two: Biomes

Topics to cover:

  • Arctic/tundra
  • Taiga/coniferous forest
  • Grassland/savanna/prairie
  • Deciduous forest
  • Tropical/temperate rainforest
  • Desert
  • Ocean

Week three: Mineral Kingdom

Topics to cover:

  • The rock cycle
  • Gems
  • Fossils

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Planning our Human Being and Animals block

November’s block for my fourth grader will be the first half of her Human Being and Animals block. I have been pondering this block quite a bit and doing a lot of reading. My most used resources:

I am building our first block primarily out of Jean’s post and the Kovacs book, focusing first on the human being (Marsha Johnson’s block has a lovely set-up about the Star Child), then on the snail as our head animal and the seal as our trunk animal. Both of these animals are covered in the Kovacs book and we have intimate knowledge of both of them, having observed many snails in our own garden and seals in the harbor where we have often stayed. We will culminate with the human being again as the only true limb animal, with hands to help the world! Mostly I want to awaken that sense of the human being with the power to serve and love others with this portion of the block.

In February I am planning to do a more zoology focused block, but that’s as far as I have gotten with planning that!

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