Many of you have asked about what homeschool curriculum we are using. Two months in, and I really love what we are doing right now. It took me a little while to find my way amongst the all of the vastly different homeschool curriculums and education philosophies. I can't say it's right for everyone, but it's really working for us for now. I'm sure we will evolve as life continues to change.
My educational philosophy is a buffet that offers a little of everything - un-schooling, literature-based, classical, Waldorf, Montessori, and probably others too. I had a love-hate relationship with school, and I really want to pass on the good parts of my educational experience and withhold the negatives for my own children, while morphing my curriculum to meet each child's individual interests and learning styles at their level. I'd like to skip the boredom, repetition, compartmentalization, in-applicability, and lack of self-direction that can be present in compulsory education. And I want my children to love to learn. I want to foster creativity, independence, self-motivation, exploration and a passion for life and learning. I want them to feel challenged and for them to feel like there is always room for growth and expansion.
And I want my children to be happy, care-free, and enjoy life, while still being prepared for whatever dreams they want to pursue.
As an over-thinking, introspective, perfectionist, I have spent a great deal of time thinking and searching for how to practically turn my vision into every-day life. After obsessing about homeschooling a little too much, I finally found peace when I started following my children's lead: looking at what they love to do and what they get excited about.
And as far as being prepared for life beyond childhood, I realized that if you can read, write, and reason well, then you can be successful at anything. So, I think that sums up a lot of the theoretical that I have been thinking about. Here are the specifics...
Sonlight makes up the core of our curriculum. It is a literature based curriculum that focuses on reading classic literature. By reading books, we are covering history, reading, and science. Right now, we are finishing up P 3/4 and are starting P 4/5 While I love that Sonlight does all the planning and scheduling for me, and I can fall back on it if I need to, we are currently moving at our own pace and I am letting the boys direct what and how much we read. (Hence, why we are finishing up our year of curriculum after only two months...they really love reading)
We ARE editing some of the curriculum. I'm not using a few books, and I'm adding to it in areas that are lacking. For instance, Dmitri is very interested in the earth, dirt, bugs, worms, etc. So I have added 6-8 books on those specific topics. (Like this cool Beetle Book!)
Math We use math every day. When they help me bake, when we count, when we look at the clock or read the page numbers of our books. They like to play with money. Right now, I feel that is more than enough.
When Dmitri has learned to write his numbers, we plan to start Life of Fred. I wish I had this when I was in school! (Maybe I wouldn't have hated math.) It makes math applicable and humorous, and avoids laborious homework assignments. Seriously, I am in love with this math curriculum.
Handwriting Dmitri has a Handwriting Without Tears workbook that he works in when he wants to. He enjoys using it, as if it were a coloring book.
Projects Sonlight is not very hands-on/project oriented, and this is something that my boys and I really enjoy. So we add in fun activities that we come up with together. Last week, we traced and cut out the boys bodies, and then taped on all of the body parts (which I had printed) that we had learned about in the human body book that we had just read.
Field Trips I try to find field trips that are related to something we are learning about. A few weeks ago, we drove to Atlanta for a Peter Rabbit Puppet show (we just finished reading "The Complete Tales of Peter Rabbit"). They loved it, and so did I!
Extra-curriculars The boys go to an open gymnastics once a week, which they absolutely love. Once they outgrow this weekly event, I think they will want to take gymnastics classes. It's such a great way for them to get out some energy and test their physical limits.
In the Spring, we plan to do a wilderness program once a week (where they hike in the woods for 3 hours). I adore the idea of a forest kindergarten, and I think this will be a great addition to our week.
All of that say, homeschooling is really just laid back and fun as I follow my littles' natural interests and pace, and we are learning so much. And there is just enough structure that this planner doesn't go crazy.
Eleanor turned 4 months old this past week. And finally, I feel adjusted to this new life with three. After all of those moments of saying, "This too shall pass." It has. I think I'm finally on the other side. For now. The ever-changing tides of parenthood seem to recede just when you are sure that you cannot take anymore.
One beautiful and random day last week, Eleanor decided that the Ergo is quite a cozy mode of transportation. It's completely changed my daily life. This is how I imagined life with three would be- a high-energy adventure with my two boys, just with a baby in the pouch. And four months in, that's what it's become. I'm really starting to love it.
I've enjoyed every minute of holding and snuggling this extra sweet baby girl. But now, my bathroom is swept, the dishes are washed, and the laundry is folded. And that makes life a lot easier to enjoy. Not perfect, but much better.
Homeschooling is going well. We read, we draw, we paint, we listen to music, we pretend. We play a lot - with friends, at the park, on the floor. And last week, after reading "The Complete Works of Peter Rabbit," we attended a "Peter Rabbit" puppet show at The Center for Puppetry Arts. I'm not sure who is having more fun - me or them.
Not only is life a bit easier now that Eleanor enjoys the Ergo, but she is fascinated by her constantly whirling brothers. This entertainment keeps her content long enough for me to run to the bathroom, take a bath, or grab something to eat. It's marvelous. And they think so too. They absolutely adore her. Experiencing the precious interactions between all three of them melts what's left of my horcrux-ed heart. We have our moments, but the happiness always outweighs the challenges.
And now, when all three little ones are fast asleep, I am whole-heartedly pursuing photography. Reading, learning, practicing, editing, website building, scheduling...I'm making it happen.
We have spent the last month, still floating along in newborn land. Eleanor keeps growing. She has stolen my heart. We have all been sick on and off. The littles and I attended my grandfather's surprise 80th birthday party in Memphis. David started his Ph.D. We are handling some major house repairs. And now we are "starting homeschooling". And here is the story of how that came to be...
As Dmitri could officially start Pre-K, I've been soul-searching, researching, and grappling with all of our educational options as the time for school draws nearer. My thoughts have chased each other into circles and down rabbit trails as I've tried to figure out the best option for all of us.
We aren't in a "good" public school district (actually quite terrible, really), but some people have had good experiences with it. And yet, the more public school teachers I meet and talk to that won't put their children in the public schools here, the more uncomfortable I feel putting my own child in. I worry about what he might learn, especially socially and emotionally. And educationally, I worry about taking away my child's "childhood" - the pressure that comes from testing and homework, the waking up at 6:30 AM to get to school on time, the 8 hours away from home. I just didn't feel at peace about it.
I have hoped that we could send him to Montessori school. I like the Montessori educational philosophy, and I think Dmitri would thrive in that environment. I would not have to worry quite as much about the negative socialization (not that it is non-existent), and there would be smaller class sizes and lower student/teacher ratios. Considering how reserved Dmitri is, I think these things are important. The day starts at 9 AM instead of 7:30 AM, which seems to just make more sense for young children. But, financially, a graduate student income was not intended for a family of five, and especially does not allow for Montessori school tuition. While I think it's worth every single penny, it does not change the fact that we do not have those pennies.
And so I've felt disappointed and frustrated by my lack of options.
There is always homeschooling.
I was homeschooled from kindergarten to graduation. It's not a foreign concept to me. I've been to curriculum fairs. I've worked at curriculum fairs. I've read Charlotte Mason. I've read John Holt. I've known hundreds of homeschoolers. I've seen unschooling, relaxed schooling, textbook homeschooling, classical homeschooling, literature-based homeschooling, Waldorf homeschooling, homeschool co-ops, homeschool "schools," etc. I know what HSLDA stands for.
But the older my children have gotten, the less I've been interested in homeschooling. I think I ultimately have felt that I cannot be the mom that I want to be - a patient, calm, loving, playful, interactive mom, if I am with my children all day long, every single day. Especially since Eleanor's arrival has thrown me for a loop and my house is in varying states of chaos, and for the first time in my adult life I have not bathed daily (sorry, friends). I dream of having a half-clean house, dinner waiting in the crock-pot, having clean clothes folded and put away, and being able to ENJOY my children when I am with them without stressing about mundane things that don't really matter in the long-term (but I just can't help it that they bother me!)
I felt like homeschooling would poop on my dream, and then stomp it into dust. And laugh. And say, "Poo, poo!" in a Madeline-voice.
I've felt inadequate. And I am terribly afraid of becoming "one of those homeschool moms". I can name at least 15 homeschool moms that seem literally crazy. Were they always that way or did their children make them that way? Nobody knows...I could go on about my fears of homeschooling and homeschoolers and homeschool moms. But what they really are are just fears about myself.
And that very realization led me to think, "Maybe I should give homeschooling a try." Because I believe in pushing the boundaries of oneself, growing, and being scared to death of it all. (Or maybe I'm just as crazy as I fear).
So, I started doing a little more research - delving into the world of homeschooling philosophies and curriculum. Re-familiarizing myself with all that is out there. And I became just a little bit excited. And when I found the perfect curriculum, I became just a bit more excited. And when I started planning projects and field trips and ordering books, I became pee-my-pants excited.
It's taken time. Over the course of severals months, I've been metamorphosing. Acknowledging who I am, embracing that "I am enough" (which I have had hanging on my fridge), re-centering myself with what's important, and letting go.
But a conversation with Dmitri took away any smidgen of doubt that may have remained.
I had borrowed some books from my aunt that were a part of our school curriculum. As I was tucking Dmitri into bed, I said, "Aren't you excited about the books that we got from Aunt Stacy for school?" Since Dmitri loves to read, I expected an enthusiastic response. But instead, in a belligerent tone, he nearly yelled back, "NO! I don't want to do school." Taken aback, I cautiously said, "Oh, well I thought that you would be excited about reading the books." He again yelled, more flustered, "NO! I'm not doing it." I questioned him, trying to figure out what triggered this outburst. And what he meant became clear when he threw his arms around my neck and said, "I'm not going to school! You can't leave me, because I LOVE YOU TOO MUCH."
And that little misunderstanding brought tears to my eyes, and solidified my decision. Because I love him too much too.
And here we are. Today, we attended a homeschoolers beginning-of-the-school-year bash. Dmitri was trying to understand which of his friends would be there and which would not. I explained to him that "...homeschoolers will be there." And he exclaimed, "HEY! I'M A HOMESCHOOLER!"
Yes, Dmitri, yes you are.
I don't really know where we are going, what this journey will hold, or how long this will last, but right now, we are homeschooling. I'm scared, but I am enough.
A shot from my friend's beautiful home that I got to photograph.
Eleanor and I a few weeks ago.
folding laundry this past week - it makes me cry too.
We have spent the last week and a half in the house, fighting off a little army of illnesses. We are left with lingering colds, but are mostly feeling much better.
Recent links, thoughts, and reads:
-How to Talk to Your Daughter About Her Body Really, everyone should read this.
-I am wrapping up this book, it might be my favorite parenting book yet. Truly life-changing.
-An ever-changing book list for the boys and I this fall: Pre-School Reading List. We are starting with the theme, "the earth" -dirt, rocks, insects, compost, earthworms... I am letting Dmitri's interests guide our informal pre-school: little hands-on projects and lots of books. Two things we both love.
-A couple of weeks ago, I shot the interior of a friend's home- the first time I've photographed someone else's house. They are getting ready to move to the UK and wanted to remember their first home. It was so much fun.
-I wish I had had Kelly William Brown's book (Adulting) 7 years ago, when I moved out of the house. I might still buy it for my husband (passive-aggressive, and I know it). I'm eating up her blog. Practical and funny. What's not to love.
-Massive de-cluttering is happening now. In theory, I am a minimalist. My house says otherwise.
-It's officially August, which means David and I re-evaluated our budget. We are instating the envelope-system. We also did a time budget...if only we could stick minutes in envelopes.
-August also means David starts his Ph. D in a week. I still have one more week to talk him out of it....but not really. Good luck, dear and cheers to the next 5 years!
-Those three little humans and I are off to play.
I've missed writing on the blog regularly. I haven't figured out how to make the time to write, or make dinner for that matter.
Before Eleanor, I had frequently heard moms talk about how drastically having a baby had changed their lives - how they can't make dinner or get the housework done or take a shower. How they don't seem to have time for anything or for themselves. How they don't leave the house for weeks.
I would nod my head out of politeness, while wondering what they were talking about. Perhaps they exaggerated, or were pessimists. Maybe they didn't want to do these things. Or they had very challenging babies. I wondered, because that has not been my experience of motherhood. Of course I wouldn't imagine saying that I have never missed a shower in 4 years. Or that I've made a homemade dinner almost every single night since my babies were a week old. Or that rarely a day goes by that we don't go somewhere. Baby goes in the swing/Moby/Ergo/playmat, and they would generally be happy while I did what needed to be done. I've learned many single-handed maneuvers and I can breast-feed while walking around and cooking in the kitchen. Somehow, I have always gotten it done - whatever it is that I feel I want done. And I have not been able to relate to some of the common complaints of parenthood.
Until now. Now, I have this precious, beautiful, baby girl that I absolutely adore. This tiny little creature that I wanted so badly, and who is every bit as wonderful as I had hoped. And sweet little Ellie is so happy and content and smiley, except when things aren't exactly to her liking. And the growing list of dis-likings according to Eleanor include:
-That blasted swing that the cat thinks is it's bed- well, the cat can have it.
-Mama using the bathroom. Or bathing. Or ever leaving me for more than approximately 30 seconds. Which obviously might as well be forever. All alone. In a foreign land. And tigers might eat me. Wail!
-Sleeping, unless held by or in immediate proximity to mama. That's dangerous. Also, what if I get hungry?
-Baby carriers of any kind. Especially the Ergo (unless I'm asleep, and then she sneaks me in thinking I don't know. Oh, but I know, and will remind her of my displeasure as soon as I awake). Why does she keep trying to put me in those straight jackets?
-Mama sitting still while holding me. That's why she has two gliders and legs for that matter! That silly mama.
-That man that mama keeps handing me to...he smiles and seems quite nice. But I'd rather look at him while being held by mama.
-Head rubs. Squirm.
-The crib, which is really unnecessary when I have a mama.
Now I know. I know what all of these women are talking about. This crazy newborn phase where it seems like I can't do anything. Except sit (not still), holding Eleanor. And drinking coffee. And eating snacks (lots and lots of snacks.) And just being. We do leave the house quite a bit, because it's easier (and generally more fun) than staying home all day. But when we are home...
I do the very bare minimum as far as anything that isn't completely necessary. My withering garden causes tears to well up with disappointment when I pay it a rare visit. And my kitchen smells pretty funky most days. Sometimes I just want to pee alone. Or blog. The other night, after an especially exhausting day of keeping up with Dmitri and Damon with Eleanor in tow, I sat in my chair with slumped, aching, shoulders and cried to David. "I need more time alone. I need more time with friends. I need more time to clean the house. I need more time with you. I need more time to cook food. I need more one-on-one time with the boys. And I need more sleep....It's not just one area that's lacking, it's everything."
I do feel overwhelmed sometimes. Especially after a long day on little sleep. (And I do need to make sure taking care of myself is a priority.)
There is nothing wrong with feeling those feelings. I acknowledge them. I cry, or laugh, or meditate. And then, I let them go. I let go of my unrealistic ideals about having a perfect house with perfect meals and me dressed in perfectly coordinating outfits while completing a massive home renovation and then blogging about it all. And I feel such relief.
And then, once I let all of that go, I can do the maximum living and loving. I sit in my rocking chair, watching the boys play at my feet (sometimes I sit on the rug with them). Reading books together on the sofa. Singing songs with them. Being present. Intently listening. Having Eleanor has really changed how I live life. It hasn't been a new revelation. But it's been what's pushed me to take my hopes of connecting more with my children, living each day slowly, and it's allowed me to just be. Be with my children, and fully experience life while letting go of all of the distractions outside of meeting our basic needs.
I am doing what I want to be doing right now, even if it means eating a lot of pizza and Mexican. Because there will be time for big home-cooked meals, a perfectly clean and organized house, new house projects, beautiful gardens, and daily blog posts. But my three little ones? They will never be this little again. This day will go by, and it will never come back. How will they remember it, and how will I?
Today, I am going to sit in my rocking chair, smiling back at this... and feeling so thankful for this tiny little girl that's made me slow down and love more. Especially when it's overwhelming.
On Friday, I went grocery shopping with the three little humans all by myself for the first time. From the moment I unloaded them out of the van, weaved through the parking lot like a "red rover chain", piled all of the groceries on top of my children in the cart, unburied them at the check-out, and returned back to the van victorious with groceries, people were staring, gawking, and trying to peel their eyes away. I overheard them whispering to each other.
I have entered a new territory - life with three (three and under, might I add). And evidently, I look as crazy as I'm feeling right now. We are beyond outnumbered, and have surpassed the average 2.3 children. And now people stare at us like we are the Duggars. Or maybe they were just staring at my childrens' heads, peeking out from the food that they were buried under, since the carts just aren't big enough.
I'm having to re-learn motherhood and life and everything, it seems. And it's been a challenge so far. I underestimated how "new" this would feel- like being an overwhelmed first-time mom all over again. I know that we are in an adjustment period, and I know things will get better (they have to, right?!) but right now, it's hard.
Three little people with three different sleep schedules makes for one tired mama. An almost-four-year-old with night terrors, a two-year-old who can't sleep without mama for more than 45 minutes at a time, both of whom still have the occasional night-time potty accident, and fight bedtime like there is no tomorrow, plus a newborn baby who needs diaper changes and feedings during the middle of the night...it leads to:
Three cups of coffee a day. Minimum. And by a cup, at least one of those is a venti. And headaches. Lots of headaches.
Three hungry bellies, one of which is always demanding food or water or milk. And I forget to eat amongst the shuffle, and then I wonder why I'm shaking and sweaty at noon and I force myself to sit down and eat.
Having a newborn baby is just like having a newborn baby. Eleanor is generally content as long as she is fed and diapered, and held when she is awake. Luckily, she sleeps quite a lot. Sometimes she sleeps at night. Sometimes she doesn't. And sure, I'm tired, as I mentioned above. What mom to a newborn isn't. But add taking care of a newborn baby while trying to keep up with my tasmanian devil children, and I'm pretty sure this must be some kind of extreme sport. Breaking up brawling toddlers while trying to breastfeed an infant takes some pretty crazy moves.
When we were trying to get pregnant, I remember running into a friend of mine at the Farmer's Market who had recently had her third child. I excitedly asked her what it was like having three, to which she cautiously whispered, "Stick with two!!!" Now, I am on the other side of that question. Several innocent and well-intentioned friends have asked me, "So, what's life like with three?" Depending on how much coffee I've had, I have either stared blankly at them or respond, "Ask me again in a couple months."
Although I speak of the challenges, transitions, and craziness of life with three these first few weeks, the little victories that I achieve each day are incredibly rewarding and empowering. Our first trip to the grocery store, our first trip to the park, our first trip to Target, actually finding time to sweep the floors, while exhausting and challenging also remind me that I CAN do this. The love that is showered on Eleanor by her proud big brothers absolutely melts my heart every day- it reminds me that our love is multiplied, not divided. And I love having a cuddly newborn so much. I am even more intent with this fleeting newborn phase on cherishing every moment. Could I put her in the crib when she sleeps? Sure, but why would I want to?! It just goes so fast. (I find a little comfort in that too when I'm having an especially challenging moment.)
And so it goes- we are surviving the ups and downs. And I'm trying to enjoy the wild ride. And the love x 3.
One of the challenges of 3 little ones - family photos. Hopefully we will get one one of these days. In the mean time, I'm just having to laugh at our attempts.