We Are at Another End

KIMG1701Well, another year is coming to an end. I never really know exactly when we are going to end, it all depends on when I either A) finish the schoolwork at hand, or B) just need to stop. However, I think this year, for the most part, I think we are actually doing both together.  I am quite impressed. For two boys we are down to three books and just a few chapters in each, so we are alternating between the three of them to get them all done. I don’t want to just read several chapters in one book one day and several in another book the next day for that is not the intent of our learning. The idea of Charlotte Mason learning is to give the brain time to sub-consciously think about the previous reading for several days before going on. They are not getting several days in between each chapter of a book, but at least 1-2 days, and two of them go on to different topics each chapter so it is not really that bad.

I have had a slightly easier time overall the last several weeks and it has given me time to do some introspection about how things are going and how to improve. My main concern was that I feel we have been treading water for the last 1.5 years. Yes, the last few months of school we feel that way. I think it is just that we need a change of pace into summer months, however, I have been feeling this way for the last 18 months. There are several things at play, but I have come across one thing that is a big part of it all.

I somehow ran across a website that caught my eye. I started reading it. It had lots of pictures. I was intrigued. It is about a mother of 7 children ranging from 18 months to 11 yrs who went from a *VERY* cluttered home (she posts pictures!) to a home where it can look like Home and Gardens in about 30 minutes of cleanup – the entire house (again, more pictures.) Oh, and when I mentioned this to my sister, her natural reaction was, “but does she homeschool?!?!?!?!” to which was a very fast reply, “YES!” Minimization is the word of the day. You mean to say that a homeschool family of many children really can have a really neat home, almost all the time? I honestly never thought that possible unless one had a housekeeper that came in every day, or every other day at the minimum. Or, unless the children were much older. (And even then there is no guarantee!) So, I started reading.

I have to say, after reading several pages, it really did make sense, and I am at the point right now that I think it is possible in our home as well. I got rid of a lot of stuff before we moved, but when we purchased our home last year and all the boxes arrived, just weeks before Pesach, my wonderful, dear, beloved husband told me to “Just empty the boxes and put everything somewhere!” And me, being the good wife, listened. I knew there was so much more I needed to get rid of, but with just a few short weeks before Pesach, I didn’t have time. We emptied and put. It would not have been too bad if not for the fact that I never got around to going through everything and organizing like I really wanted to! Which would have meant I would have gotten rid of at least a little bit more. Don’t get me wrong, I have gone through things and have minimized a little bit over the past year, just not nearly like I wanted to.

So, after getting psyched up from reading, I got it in my head to do something. I was not quite sure what, but last weekend I emptied out the cabinets under the two sinks in our bathroom. I sat down on the floor, opened the door, and started taking things out. I had purchased little cubbies to put things in almost 2 years before, but it was still a mess. I realized I didn’t need to organize, I needed to toss. If something didn’t resonate deep inside of me, I let it go. Some things I had kept for sentimental reasons, but did not really need any more. I understood then that it is okay to need something at one point in my life, and it is okay if later on I find that I don’t need it anymore. It is okay to move on.

After spending a couple of hours, tucked away in my little corner of the house, by myself, IKIMG1706 finished. I did not minimize to the extent that the other mother did, however, as she mentions, you need to do what is good for your family, which may not be quite like she does it. But, I am pleased. the two cabinets are still stocked – however, the bins all line up nicely and I can see what is in each of them and nothing is stacked. Perhaps on another go around I will be able to declutter more, in the meantime, I got rid of one garbage bag of stuff! Not too shabby! I am trying to decide which room to tackle next. I am thinking perhaps my closet. We shall see. It is too close to Shabbos and Yom Tov to do anything else.

What have I learned from all of this? Other than seeing how much stuff we have that we don’t have (and this was just our bathroom, I can’t even imagine the rest of the rooms!) I
have noticed another thing. My mind is clearer. Yes, I only cleaned up two cabinets, and I don’t even see the items inside of them unless I open the doors, my mind is actually a bit clearer. I have realized that everything that we have in the house is something that occupies “space” in my mind. The entire week, when I have thought about those cabinets, I have noticed “space” in my mind. I have decluttered my mind. I have time to think about other things. It has actually brought me much relief.

If I have sparked your interest, please read more about minimizing both your home and your mind here! I hope to keep y’all updated occasionally!

KIMG1714I am looking forward to freeing up my mind for many other things that I want to think about and do, including getting back into writing more. 🙂 So, as we are closing in on our trek to receiving the Torah in a few short days, with the smell of cheesecake (our own unique recipe! No, the one on the right is not green, it is actually brown – from chocolate,) challah, and more, I wish you all a wonderful Yom Tov!

It’s Not Summer Yet

20130602_091100Well, I made it to Monday! I actually did enjoy myself camping despite the fact that my arms and legs look and feel like I have the chickenpox. It was as if those mosquitoes were starved and no one had come to visit them in days (or hours)! Even though it was hot and mosquito free in the sun and cool and mosquito infested in the forest and we were lucky to be included in a storm on Saturday evening that went through the night, I had a good time. It is always nice to be away in nature and to be able to enjoy and appreciate Hashem’s creations. No phones, no internet, very few cars. The only noises were the various birds that sang some gorgeous music starting at 4:30 in the morning. Our boys enjoyed it as well. They even got up at 4:30 in the morning on Shabbos morning to play frizbee in the field (we constructed an eruv as well.) Showers were had by all when we got back on Sunday to clean up and remove any lingering insects that thought our home would be better than their home. And yes, I was told of some of interesting places where those lingering bugs were found, I just won’t mention them here!

Monday was a day where I got little done, on purpose. The boys emptied most of the car, the tents and sleeping bags were opened up in the backyard and aired out and dried the day before, and eventually they all got rolled up again Monday. We davened, did parsha and math. I just would not do much more other than laundry and some basic cleaning up of the kitchen. we listened to Mishnayos in the evening and then the big surprise came when I realized the boys were in bed ON TIME; and not the “new usual” since Daddy’s accident, it was the real bedtime! If nothing else, that did put a nice smile on my face since I was annoyed that it took almost 4 hours to pack up all the tents in the backyard and there were only 5 of them.

Today went much better. We got off to a late start but managed to pack in outside davening, not just one but two sessions of math, piano practicing, merit 20130602_085044badge completion including the required counselor signature, dropping off camp forms to be filled out by the boys’ doctor, mishnayos and even some cleaning by boys on their own! It started off by one beautiful boy waking up and being dressed before the parents got out of bed, him helping make his father’s lunch, doing his breakfast job before I could even finish eating, davening with his father, and not to mention coming over, on his own accord, to massage my shoulders. I was not sure what he wanted from me, but with nicely massaged shoulders I was most likely going to say yes to whatever it was. To thank him to the punch, I handed him a new treat I bought that was supposed to have been for fast helpers in rolling up the tents but never happened for the fast helpers were replaced with snails. A little brother wanted an extra special treat as well, however, I blurted out that extra special treats go to boys to do extra, extra special chores all on their own. Smile. So, while davening, the already davened boy cleaned up the front yard, including picking up lots of trash, did lots of work in my kitchen by being proactive and putting away the remaining bags of groceries from the previous day and meriting himself a second extra special treat. The youngest also wanted to help and so he kept asking me for chores and so that is how I got my kitchen and dining room swept AND mopped as only a 3 year old can do and earned himself an extra, extra special treat as well. 🙂 Unfortunately none of the others took the bait. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to take what I can get!

As I started to feel good about myself with regards to how nice the day went I remembered something: It was not summer time yet and we still have school work to finish. Minor details. 😐 So, tomorrow morning is going to start by figuring out what each boy has left to do and making a short schedule on how to finish it.  Technically we have 1.5 weeks of school before the end of the year, and I think we can get it all in except math. Thank goodness for summer!

20130602_091037In some of my down time, which I actually had today, I was excited about the summer. I thought of all sorts of stuff for the boys to do that we just do not get to do during the year because of time; more math, typing practice (we started last summer), dik duk, Hebrew, more piano practice and lessons, chemistry from Khan Academy by request from boy #3, and the list went on. Hmm. Perhaps I need to rethink our summer? I *had* been thinking about just a couple of classes a day for the summer, but there is just so much I want to do! Perhaps Camp Harper is going to be more than just playing like planned. I am wondering if I can make a Camp Harper that is more of an educational camp that lasts through lunch. Can I make it fun as well? There is going to be one week of Scout camp for three boys – overnight sleeping in tents through rain and shine which overlaps a bit with a visit from Grandpa, but can I really pull off putting in a lot of good learning in the summer AND keeping it fun? I will have to mull that over in my mind. It will, most likely, have to include a field trip of some sort somewhere most weeks to help liven it up; picnics to various places near us, one20130602_085218 or two trips to the zoo, maybe even a walk down the Erie Canal to visit some neat shops that are down the path. What ever the case is, I think I will have much better luck if we start off the summer by making camp shirts. The boys always liked doing that in the past when we did do it.

I still have a few weeks to think about the summer, and not to mention look for next year’s books that I need to order so I can read them (hopefully) before school starts, and don’t forget to figure out what school work to do with a newly 4 year old; though he has taken to Readingeggs.com for beginning ABC’s and especially their new math program. I’m about ready to find La La Land now, there is a lot to do tomorrow morning and just the fact that when I’m there I don’t itch is a good reason to go! Oh, and yes, the boys got into bed within a few minutes of the real bedtime again tonight. We might be on a roll. 🙂

Reviewing the Past Year

20130519_152820Today is the 54th day of the omer, which is 7 weeks and 5 days! Yes, that is what my boys are in to. Actually, I think they forgot to mention that today so please, do not tell them! 😉 The last couple of years they have increased the counting by about week and I think they have petered off with their counting now. Hope you all had a great Shavuos. We did. The weather was gorgeous and the three older boys even went to shul and stayed up all night. I had two boys who were awake until 6:30 the following evening. They ended up crashing (in the rooms that had a light blaring all night) and not waking up until the morning. Cheesecake was delicious and so were both of our homemade ice cream flavours – vanilla and chocolate mint. Tomorrow starts school though, the home stretch! We have started davening outside again a few weeks ago. Not every day yet, but several times a week.

The last 5 weeks of school always seems to be the hardest to complete. I know I said the same thing last year, but yes, it is still true. I am not sure why. I thought perhaps this year would be different for Pesach came early and we were able to get back onto a routine almost immediately, and usually I cannot get back into a routine after Pesach. I am thinking it is just that time of year.

Boys are finishing up books and with just a few weeks left; I do not really want to start them on something new. For my oldest, I have just told him to do something that is left so he gets certain subjects done twice in a week. For the middle two boys I have taken the past 2 weeks or so and worked on their Weeblos scout awards. Number 2 boys is aging out of Cub Scouts and we are working hard on finishing up the famed Arrow of Light that he can carry over to the Boy Scouts uniform. Actually, I am having Number 3 boy (who has one year left in Cub Scouts) finish it up as well. That way I do not have to worry about his stuff next year. They have just finished their second (and final) Jewish award for Cub Scouts and we will be handing in their completed forms this week.

Number 4 boy, well, just as we are finishing up the school year, he is just getting revved up – “Mommy, when is MY schooling?” and “What can I do?” No longer is playing with his blocks, cars or legos good enough to occupy him for the day! He is growing up. Baruch Hashem.  The only problem is that I am not really ready for him yet and was not planning on it until the fall. When he came to see me in bed this morning (today is Sunday), I asked him what he wanted to do today. His response? “Do my school work!” He bugged me this morning until we got it done.

I think this past year went fairly well considering Daddy’s accident turned everything around for a long time, and even then, we all 20130519_152834learned a lot and still got most of our schooling done that needed to get done. The one thing that did not go as planned is math. Other than not getting to it when Daddy was home recovering, I had a different math goal this year than I had in the past. Instead of just giving them the work and after the work was done to move on, I made the boys all get proficient in an area before we moved on. Not only does this mean they have to do many questions sometimes in one area, they have spend a month on one section perfecting it. We did have plans for the oldest boy to be ready for algebra this past December, but he is still not finished his math. We did not have a realistic goal in mind. I am glad I did what I did though. I am hoping that in the next month or so he will be done and he will be ready to start on algebra in the summer. As far as scheduling goes, next year is going to different, I know that already. Room613 is going to change around when classes are, being done mostly in the morning, which gives us the afternoon to do our secular studies or other things we would like to do. That means that Number 4 will get all my attention in the morning! I am just worried what to do with him in the afternoons. Still have some time to think about that one.

I have had several people ask me what I plan on doing in the summer. We do take off most of the summer, for we all need it, however, even though I am a laid back person, I notice that if we do not have any sort of schedule at all during the summer, then I feel the day was just wasted away. So, how to combine both a vacation but yet some sort of schedule to make us all happy is the question. Last year I did a very small schedule in the morning – davening, parsha and then 1 hour of math and typing skills. After that, everyone was free to do what they choose to do. With only 1.75-2 hours of work in the morning, it was just enough to feel like we accomplished something and enough time in the day to feel like we all had free time. I am thinking of adding a few minutes of dik duk a couple times a week and alternating it with something else – the stuff that we cannot seem to get done during the year.

There is one week where the three older boys are going to the Jewish contingency of the Boy Scout camp. Grandpa will be coming about that time and will have a few days with just Number 4 before we all go on a trip with him. This is what all that popcorn selling has done for them! 😀

20130519_152239Well, we finished off the afternoon with a spontaneous trip to the famous Lilac Festival. I love lilacs, they are one of my favorite flowers, if not the favorite and the smell of the flowers are just amazing. We have one outside in our front yard that bloomed amazingly this year. I wanted to walk around more, but because we were not planning on it, we just happened to be there for we found a nice shtender on the side of the road for taking, my Mr. 3 year old almost 4 year old kept telling me that his feet hurt and he did not want to walk anymore. Yes, it was nap time, I did not have to look at the clock to know that.

Next weekend is the conference! We are so excited and hyped to go and meet everyone. I hear there are going to be about 300 people there – almost triple what it was last year! Hope everyone has a wonderful week and hope to see many of you next weekend!

End of the Year – Trying to finish it off!

Shavuos is behind us.  It was a beautiful 3 day holiday.  Sunny, hot and humid, however, even so, it was beautiful!  We enjoyed every minute of it, and like always, I’m sad when the holiday is over.  3 days of everyone home, Daddy was home, nice friends, and even some nice food. 🙂

However, it finally hit me.  I’m having a hard time finishing up the rest of the year.  This year was better than most, some years it is really bad.  It is not that I do not want to teach, it just happens that near the end of the year things do not go quite as smoothly as they usually do.  I am not sure how it happens for we have a schedule.  However, for whatever reason, things seem to break down near the end of the year.  Right now we have about 2-3 weeks of school left, but oftentimes things go wild 2 months before the end of the year.

I think part of my problem is that I’m thinking ahead.  It is about this time of year that I get really excited about the next year – all the ideas and changes and thoughts and wonderful things we are going to be doing, I just want to sit down and organize it all now.  Don’t get me wrong, we had a wonderful year, at least from my perspective, however I just get excited about the fresh start each year.  The last two years have been wonderfully amazing, and I can see how next year can be even better.

The new secular program we have been doing has been wonderful for us.  We have been doing a Charlotte Mason program – Ambleside Online.  There are several versions of Ms. Mason’s curriculum, and the version I have is an online version.  The perk to it being online is that most of what we use is available online, and they have made it very convenient and put links for all the available books.

There are two main reasons why I really love this program.

The first reason is that it is God based.  One could use it without religion if one desired as there are other reasons to use the curriculum even without religion, and one could very easily change it from a Christian based curriculum to a Jewish based curriculum like I did.  All I really need to do is remove the books that are not for me (i.e. Bible, Christian history) and replace them with what I want (i.e. Torah and Jewish history).  I have found the books that remain make it easier for me to include God in our entire schooling, not just in the “Jewish” part of it.  In our science when we are talking about volcanoes and earthquakes and the book mentions the “One Who create all but we are not going to know but you know Who it is” (and yes, this particular book words it this way, it is cute and I really like the book) to learning about Joan of Arc and we see the miracle of how the small French army wins over the larger English army, and how when they finally crowned the real King of France, we see how God runs the world and how the French coronation is actually very similar to how the Jewish kings were crowned.

The second reason I fell in love with the Charlotte Mason approach is because she focused on SHORT lessons.  The younger years (through year 3) have 10-15 minute lessons.  That is all!  Why? The child cannot sit for longer than that without getting bored and distracted.  Do not let the child get bored for you want to keep their interest. Older children can focus more so the older years have 30-45 minute lessons depending on the section/day.

There has been many times where I would stop reading right at the climax of a story.  Yes, I was a meany!!!  Oh, did they beg and plead with me to read more, but after I secretly read the ending I then, with a sneaky look on my face, closed the book shut and tell them next week!  The suspense was almost unbearable for them!  They are then so excited to come back next week to hear what happened.  It is a great way to keep the interest of an otherwise not so interesting book as well.  Oh, and yes, the next day they tried hard to tell me they did not read that book yet for the week. 😉

Another bonus to short lessons is that it is great for those of us who are teaching a dual curriculum.  You can actually teach all the subjects, in depth, AND teach another full curriculum!  And not only that, if there are multiple children you are teaching, hey, there is time enough for all of them, what more could I ask for?  God in all facets of life, and time to teach all my children.

It has been two years and I am very happy.  I still have not been able to include all I would like to include into our schedule, however, slow and steady wins the race they say.  We have done better this second year, and I am very confident that I will be able to do better this coming year.  Now, to try to focus for a few short weeks so we can get done!