Ancient Egypt Study

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

There have been days that I've thought, "I can't believe it's only August" with much hysteria displayed all over my face. Other days are blissfully simple yet productive, meaningful and slow. All is well tonight as Down Home Schoolhouse shuts down for the evening for nighttime Peter Rabbit stories. When the house becomes surprisingly quiet, I'm able to reflect on some of the little moments or words uttered that I don't want to forget.
The history curriculum I'm following is assuredly too advanced for them, but I love it. I thoughtfully chose it because I know how much my husband (and his family) enjoy studying history and I wanted to breed the same appreciation in our kids. This will be a program that I will be able to use for years if we continue to homeschool. Even if we do not, it came with a history game that is actually quite difficult on the high school level. Jordan and I play it and we struggle. It's hard, but it's fun, too. Because it can be daunting to sit a preschooler, kindergartner, and a grade one child down at a table with a two year old running circles around it, I try to make it fun for them in some way. Keep their hands busy with coordinating coloring sheets. Crafts. Dramatic read aloud. Anything to allow them to listen to what I'm talking about that day.

Lately, our efforts have been focused on Ancient Egypt. We've studied pyramids, pondered what we might do if we suddenly woke up back then, had an Egyptian themed feast, decoded hieroglyphics and learned to write our names with ancient pictures, and talked about the Nile River. 
In our back yard, we have an area of gravel (unfortunately) and the kids love to play in it. They used to pile up their dump trucks with rocks and dirt and ram them into each other as boys do. Now, it stays pretty leveled out so imagine my surprise when I look out the window and see that Kinley had dug out intricately placed ditches and was then filling them with water, making a muddy mess. I leaned my head out the door with, I'm sure, a look of annoyance as he proudly said, "Look, Mom! I made irrigation ditches just like the Egyptians made around the pyramids!"
I bit my tongue because my whole goal with this was to let the children play, to learn through experience. I didn't want some textbook answer for everything. I loved the real life application and the reminder of the role childhood creativity has when they're not plopped in front of an iPad all day. It has been good.

Just today, we discussed The Great Pyramid of Giza. We took a look at the layout of it all and Abel grinned and said, "Ma, when I die will you bury me in the underground chamber? That's cool." Fights then broke out over where the other kids would be buried. Kinley ended up with the king's chamber and Saylor rightly got the queen's chamber while Merit said, "I'll just be with Jesus." Me, too, pal. Me, too.
We also made Egyptian Armbands which they loved!

Up next is mummies. They're gonna love that, too!

High Tea

Tuesday, August 21, 2018
It's easy to forget how incredibly important it is to simply play. I've been guilty of this myself, especially when one of my children was diagnosed as deaf. I immediately forgot all that I knew to be true about childhood and I turned myself into the flashcard mom. I'm not knocking flashcards per se but research shows us over and over that most kids do not truly learn that way. I knew that, but I became overwhelmed with the feeling of being "behind" and I wanted Abel to rise to the top of his class and show everyone that deaf people truly can do anything. He attended every therapy, sometimes to the detriment of the rest of us. I felt guilty for carting my kids around in seat belts that equaled up to hours because of the commute. I also felt guilty if I didn't go. 
This homeschooling adventure was born out of many different reasons, but one of them was a desire to let go of what the world (or the state) tells me is normal for my child. This is a daily struggle for me. At moments, I can remove my mom brain from this situation and see that Abel (and all of my kids) do some things at a higher level than their peers. I can also see that their peers do some tasks better than each of them. That's just part of life, right? With them at home, I can monitor their frustration and plan our learning accordingly. The tea party day was a great reminder of that. We had started off the day with a lot of "work" and I hadn't structured it very well. It was too much at once and I knew I was losing them. We still had more language arts to focus on, but the struggle was evident so I told them all to go out to play and that I was planning a party for them that afternoon. In the back of my mind, I remembered my mom had gotten Saylor a tea set and I thought that would be a fun memory for them while I snuck in some read-aloud time.

I grabbed our stack of poetry books I've collected over the years and a book that Dolly Parton sent us- Chimpanzees For Tea- and began to set up a dainty little front porch oasis for the five of us. I almost told them to put on their Sunday bests, but I came back to reality really quickly with that thought. I mean, my kids are almost always barefoot and barely clothed.
People ask me how I get my children to listen to stories without pictures and I've learned a few tips, but you should know that I'm often trying to talk over them. They're still young (at least that's what I tell myself) and so they often break into what I'm saying with questions or completely random remarks. Still, we press on. My kids get at least thirty minutes of read aloud time a day. It's a stretch to force story time, especially if I'm reading poetry so I needed something where they were using their hands. If you give the children something to do quietly while you are reading to them, you'll likely have more success. Another obvious time passer is to provide food. Children learn when their bodies are fed as well as their minds. I don't worry if they're kicking their little legs, chewing obnoxiously, or giggling to one another while I read. Boys especially are known to learn better when they're moving. 

Peep those crusts in Saylor's tasting picture above. Mama has to get in on the PB&J action, too!

Anyway, this activity last week held their attention for awhile. We discussed fancy tea parties and I managed to get most of them to try green tea for the first time. We sweetened with sugar cubes and honey and devoured poems like Over Hill, Over Dale (Shakespeare), Stars (Sara Teasdale), and Casey At The Bat (Thayer). We thought about how wild it would be to forget an entire grocery list and accidentally invite monkeys over for tea. We laughed and we were together.

And we forgot all about correct pencil grasps and sounding out letters. 

We saved those for another day.

It was high tea time and thirty minutes passed time to PLAY!

Mushroom Manipulatives

Thursday, August 16, 2018
Are there ever any original thoughts anymore? I hope so. I don't know. But before you start reading this and thinking that I came up with this idea in my already cluttered mind, let me tell you that this idea was completely inspired by the latest Wild + Free bundle. I love receiving their monthly subscriptions. The gorgeous photos, the thoughtfully chosen words, and the passion for learning at any age is evident in each issue and serves as a great inspiration to me to be more observant and focused with the kids I have in my home. Sometimes I enjoy recreating what someone else has also found to be a neat project. So much of what has brought us home to learn is a yearning to be outside more, to experience the grass under our feet, the stifling heat, the short reprieve of a breeze blowing across our necks. Nature is healing. I believe that. Yesterday, when I was losing the attention of my dear pupils after eventual blank stares at the thought of learning Spanish, I decided it was time to go outside and reset. I grabbed a basket and asked the kids to go on a mushroom hunt. They love a good hunt. Maybe you have a bunch of boys right in a row, too and you already know this, but at my house, everything is a competition. This activity was no different. Who could find the smallest? Who could find the biggest? Who could find one that wasn't broken at all? Who could find one that was a color other than brown? We had several winners amongst the categories.
We gathered several mushrooms to study. The kids got out their magnifying glasses and looked at the grooves and bends of each and marveled at their colors. I don't use that term lightly either. We were all enamored with the vibrant colors that sprinkled our yard, aware that most people just mow them over. They're whimsical really and this wasn't lost on the kids. After spending some time looking at them, we trimmed off the stems and found a piece of black construction paper to place them on. Then, we covered with a glass dish and waited until morning to see what might happen.

When we woke up the next day, the kids pulled up a bench so they could all unveil what might have happened while they slept. Carefully, we removed each mushroom from the paper and found that they left some fairly intricate prints behind. 
This prompted them to come up with other ways to study mushrooms. My oldest wondered if we might be able to create a dye with the colors from the mushrooms by soaking them in water over night. I suppose that's an experiment for another day, though. We'll have to add that to our growing list of what interests us and what we want to know. 

Top on that list for me right now is:
How many times can one child get out of bed at night before mama goes crazy? Just wondering.

Mid-Week Check In

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

It depends upon which time of day you ask me, of course, but this homeschooling gig is going well. I can say that in the evening after little bodies are winding down and getting ready to be tucked in tight. I can also say that in the mornings as I'm sitting alone drinking my coffee in peace and remembering all the mornings I physically pulled four children from their slumber before the sun even woke up to coax the older two into the building with my sanity only barely in tact. Mornings were hard. I really wanted to change that. We've fallen into a rhythm of doing "school" around 9am. If the kids wake up one by one and filter slowly in, we'll fill that time before nine with books or conversations or one on one language arts time.
It has been good. I find myself aching and tired by the end of the day, but in a good way, as if I've accomplished a big athletic feat and I've done it well. The chaos of the day falls away and I am able to somehow focus on the parts of the day that felt right- the slow mornings of togetherness, the time my deaf child surprised me with what he knew, the moment that excited my seven year old, or the joyful, creative play of all the others. Yes, tonight it feels like this is doable. 

Spanish Lessons

I know we'll have our days. There have been so many moments that I've thought to myself, "What are you doing? This isn't going to work." But the other minutes of the day are feeling like we're right where we belong, walking in what God has in store for us. Yes, this is good.

But just for the sake of keeping it real, I'll take you back to this not-so-picture perfect scene from today...

We had ventured outside for a nature study. We're doing an experiment that I'll share with you later on this week. Anyway, I walked back into the house to locate some shoes for all those little feet. Typically, my kids are barefoot, but chestnut season is upon us and we've all learned the hard way that walking around on a chestnut farm without shoes is not the best idea. I walked in and immediately was flabbergasted...

WHY would anyone pee in the kitchen floor?

My brain was only computing that there was a yellow substance near the refrigerator and I immediately and begrudgingly began cleaning this up because if I'm honest, I've seen urine and feces in much stranger locations. Finally, something clicked that it didn't smell like what I thought it to be. I opened the doors of the ice box to find an entire gallon of orange juice leaking out. Some small child, God love him, had helped himself to preparing lunch and a tasty drink.

How can I be frustrated with that? 

Autonomy lesson also complete.
I think I'll add that to my lesson plan in retrospect.

Back To School

Sunday, August 12, 2018

I knew it would happen. The back to school photos, all the reminders that this is not what most people choose for their family. When school started back, I made a deliberate effort to take the kids out for a field trip that day as if to remind myself of why I'm doing this. We went to Ijams Nature Center and then perused a bookstore. Later that week, I let them walk around outside and hit up playgrounds at lunch time. We enjoyed the quietness of these public spaces and being together, but I know that will not be enough. The start of this new adventure for us is the perfect storm, really. Let me let you in on it...
If you know what's going on in my life right now, you know that I am training for the NYC Marathon. It's my first. Go big or go home, right? Anyway, I recently backed way off my mileage because of some pain I was experiencing in my back and right leg. With my training schedule staring me down, I had to stop my daily routine of releasing endorphins and managing stress appropriately. I hoped to rest and then start back fresh in a few days, but every time I run, the same pain returns the next day. It's difficult to be a runner and not run. I know some of you know exactly what I mean. I need it. To make matters worse, I had a medical professional tell me that I needed to stop running altogether and that really got me down because that's not an option for me right now. When I have such an obvious failure in my life to complete a task, it really makes me blue. Feeling as if I can't do the things I want to do with the body that I have is not a feeling I handle well. Sure, I can finish this marathon, but I wanted to pour myself into and do it well. I wanted to train and have a finishing time that I'm proud of so I never have to do it again.
The same is true for the education of my children. I really, really want to do well as their teacher. I'm preparing in ways that I haven't before. I'm thoughtfully choosing materials to work with and arranging my house in a way that makes sitting down to learn more comfortable for them. The ugly truth is that I don't feel equipped, though. I'm not ready. But God told me to do this and so I'm diving in in obedience and faith. Of course, I'm nervous but it's happening. A quick trip through the book of Ephesians is my pep talk.
"He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine..."
"Live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love."
"But to each one of us grace has been given..."
"It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers to prepare God's people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up..."
"Predestined according to the plan"
Just go read all of it. If God is in this homeschooling plan this year and I know that He is, I can't fail. His will over my pride all day long. That's what the root issue is, isn't it? Pride. It often is with me. The last two weeks at church the pastor has spoken about the dark sides that we all have and I've been pondering on the worst part of me. At my core, I struggle most with pride. I want to have it all together. I want to keep a clean home, have perfect children, a chiseled body, and a great marriage. I don't want you all to know that I'm not even close to perfect, that I sometimes contemplate lighting all our laundry on fire because it's that backed up. I don't want you to see me losing my temper with my kids. I don't even want you to know that my husband is truly the one who cooks dinner most nights. My house is sometimes tidy, but never super clean. My children give me hourly opportunities to correct them. My midsection will likely never see the light of day again. The truth is, I've got stuff. Ugly, scarred baggage not worthy of being modeled by you or my children. But the good news I know to be true is that God doesn't leave us in our brokenness. He gives us hope and a future. Perhaps the most striking lesson learned this year will be my own. Perhaps by teaching them, I can lower myself even further to that of a true servant...bearing with my children in love, being patient, humble and gentle as Paul urges to the church in Ephesus. Lord willing.

Our homeschool starts this week! We'll take all the prayers you can muster up.