a homeschool life conversation with brandi mcintosh
With some difficulty (not a morning person) I rise around 7 each morning and get started on breakfast. This morning Ellie surprised me with eggs ready. She's my early bird and frequently helps in this way, knowing how much it helps her morning zombie of a mama out. (Mamas of young children - easier days - they are coming)! By the time breakfast is ready, the younger kids are up and Gavin (15) joins us with a little help. ;) We've all agreed we prefer to get going somewhat early so that we can move through our day at an unhurried pace and have time for what matters. At breakfast, we pray together and I read a verse (currently out of Proverbs), then mostly it's them talking and mama sipping coffee, zoning in and out. We do our main reading aloud time over lunch once my blood is flowing and my reading is better than monotone. Soon as we're done eating we tackle the kitchen together. Half the time they do this on their own while I get the laundry moving. I don't feel the house needs to be perfect when we start our day, but I've found if there are clean kitchen counters, a swept floor, and dishes put away at the opening of our day, we are all more content and can think clearer. We can usually finish this in less than 10 minutes and we head to our own quiet spaces for 'God Time'. This is a peace-filled time of refueling and a way I can have that time alone to be filled at the start of the day without having to wake before I'm ready. This supports our priority of connecting to God and jumpstarting our day in gratitude. The kids take turns caring for Willow at this time and treasure this one on one time with her. So I'm (almost) guaranteed time alone with my Creator without my wee monkey climbing on my shoulders and ripping pages of my Bible. After 20 minutes or so I ring our vintage school bell and it's morning chore time for all. I put on lively music, we brush teeth, make beds, get dressed, Gavin feeds the pig and sweeps under the table, Ellie wipes the table, Quinn heads to the barn to feed the dog, I dress Willow, tidy around the house, etc.
Then, what follows just might be my favorite part of the day, morning person or not! We head outdoors to partake of the majesty of the earth awakening. It almost seems to whisper, 'all things new.' This rouses our senses as we head out, alert to what has changed around us as we listen to the birds songs. We may find a new nest, observe earthworms after a rain, find new flowers in bloom, head over to our little pond to check on tadpoles and water bugs, watch the squirrels busily scamper from tree to tree, or check on our favorite tree 'Big Elm' over at the edge of our property. We often start out with our nature journals, and after the kids have sketched or painted something of interest, they set the journals aside and swing from trees, or dig in the moist dirt. My teen will usually run laps around the property at this time to keep in shape for the Spartan races he and Dan regularly run together. Today we ventured back on our forest trails and used the Birdsong ID app to identify some of the newer birds that have nested here and tried to spy their nests as well. One of our current read alouds is the Bird Burgess book and this has inspired Quinn (8) to start a feather collection so he's on the hunt.
I've become increasingly aware this year of the fleeting time, especially now that Gavin has surpassed me in height! Over the last year especially, I've pondered what I really want their days - their memories years from now - to look like and make that the basis for our days. It's an effort to really seize the time (not that I haven't had days of mere survival) but it's a grace-filled goal. Venturing out just after chores to see what awaits adds a layer of richness to our day, fueling our curiosities. It revives us all.
Unless the kids are involved in an epic adventure, we head inside by 10 and they begin their independent work, all of us filled to the brim. I have struggled this year as we can't head out on long camping trips or kayak down rivers as often as I crave. We're finishing up the building of our home as well as a fixer upper we bought to flip - this on top of Dan working full time. But my eyes are being opened to the fact that we all have more nature closer to us than we realize, and it doesn't take but a patch of grass to observe a new world with a child. They don't have the same wanderlust we do, and are born with a wonder we must preserve. In the book, 'Caught Up In a Story', Sarah Clarkson states, "The wonder natural to childhood is precious, something many adults spend a lifetime trying to reclaim, and as such must be preserved and maintained, especially while children are young. Your role as parent is key: how will your children encounter nature? Will they be too distracted by technologies set in their hands since birth, or will they have learned to look, to love, to hold the world around them as holy?"
Independent studies time is generally from 10-12, but often the younger ones finish earlier and play. During this time they do math (we have used Teaching Textbooks for years now and it's been a game changer), scripture memorization, copywork, Grammar, spelling. Gavin also reads Notgrass history and writes a narration daily. (I rotate between history and nature study with Quinn and Ellie in the afternoon - more on that later). I'm not big on workbooks as we've been down that road and learning transformed into drudgery for us, but I use a workbook for grammar (Easy Grammar) and it has been painless and effective. I need to interject here and say that the little bit of curriculum we do use, I very much 'own' rather than letting it rule us. I only use what I believe to be helpful for the child, and don't pay much attention to the grade recommended. I once stressed over fully finishing workbooks and paid more attention to completing a curriculum that in observing what the child is absorbing and possibly lacking. Now I only use what I believe to be helpful to the child. Other than Easy Grammar, the only workbook I use is for Quinn (8) - Horizons Phonics. He enjoys the colorful pages and I've had him do a little a day since the beginning of his first grade year. Horizons is extremely advanced so I have him doing a first grade workbook when technically he's finishing up second grade. While he's working on that I stay close by to help, but the remainder of the morning the kids rarely need my assistance so I keep laundry moving, and snuggle up and read to Willow (22 mos). And just before lunch I rock her and her 3 baby dolls as we sing 'Old MacDonald,' then I put 'them' to nap.
Lunchtime. As soon as Willow is napping I gather the kids to help prepare lunch, usually right around noon. This is another favorite part of my day with the rich read alouds that unite us all and much laughter. On a loop (so that they're rotated day to day) I read a historical novel, then the following day from the Burgess Book of Birds (our current nature read aloud), then the next day is picture books, followed by poetry. Quality picture books are a large part of our book collection and combine art with story. We do our literature read aloud each evening at dinner so dad is always a part, which he appreciates (currently reading Understood Betsy). For our history read aloud, we completed Johnny Tremain - it was all American history this year - and I followed it with one aimed at my younger audience, Squanto. So we often linger long at the table at lunch and dinner. As soon as the kids finish eating they grab their sketchbooks nearby and draw, or grab a quiet toy and play until I'm finished reading. Then I often ask one to verbally narrate. They never know ahead of time who will be called on so this keeps them tuned in. This has helped to sharpen listening and verbal skills as it "strengthens and challenges all the powers of the mind" as Karen Andreola put it. This has become as natural to the kids as breathing, and it continually amazes me how accurately and in what detail they can share what they heard.
We didn't study composers this year other than merely playing Mozart occasionally as they painted, and no official geography this year either. I knew before this school year began that I needed to be reasonable and kind to myself this year with a highly active and sometimes clingy toddler. We'll jump into map work next year and maybe I'll play Bach during their painting then. ;) I think it's important to be aware of what season to lighten the load and steer clear of comparisons to others. We all have a unique set of challenges and a unique set of kids. After lunchtime we put our dishes away and do 'lunchtime chores'. This is a system I implemented years ago and it has worked beautifully. Each child has a different chore each day, for example Gavin washes the mirrors on Monday, while Ellie sweeps her room, and Quinn dusts his. This is separate from morning chores which are identical each day. I love this system because rather than waiting until the house is filthy and having to clean all day - overwhelming the kids and me - we take care of it one chore at a time. The house is NEVER perfect, but it is usually halfway decent. This takes about 5 minutes. Then, it's Read on Your Own time, 40 minutes of peace-filled quiet in the middle of the day. It's my introverted way to refuel so I'm still a nice mama come 4:00, and it's equally beneficial for the kids. For the first half the kids read a book that relates to their period of history, and the last half they read a book they've chosen from our growing library of living books. (We don't eat out, buy jewelry, or fancy cars - we buy books) I take this time to feed my soul as well and don't allow myself to tackle household tasks, but I read as much as Willow allows. I'm currently rereading 'The Charlotte Mason Companion', 'Simplicity Parenting', 'Caught Up in a Story', and 'Hold on to Your Kids'. Anyone else jump between 4 books at a time?
After Read on Your Own time in the Spring, Quinn and Ellie are free to pursue their interests and usually head outside three days a week after helping to put away laundry, on the other days I snuggle up with them on the couch and read nature study one day (currently Pagoo) and history (Stories of the Pilgrims) the other. (In the Winter we do history or nature study together 4 days a week, but come Spring I encourage much more time for outdoor exploration). Then they paint in their journals and write about what we read. They are increasingly enjoying painting and have been inspired by some YouTube videos I've pulled up. Once they start painting I take Willow to help me pull clothes out of the drier as she thinks this is great fun or pull out a sensory bin to keep her out of the acrylic paint! Meanwhile Gavin (15) works on his apologia Biology and coding program from Sonlight. He's my science and tech guy and (praise God) happily conquers these subjects. Geometry, on the other hand, he won't miss.
Our afternoons and evenings often look like Ellie baking while Quinn plays with legos and Gavin practices guitar and Willow hangs on mama. Today it looks like all 3 of the older kids on the trampoline while Willow plays in the sandbox. (They've created endless trampoline games using an exercise ball. Take away the ball, and I can hardly get them to jump on it)! Or Quinn whittling on the back porch while Ellie plays with Willow in #elliesprairiehouse and Gavin runs with dad in preparation for the Spartan race while I do dinner prep. Or the boys arguing over something stupid and then copying scripture for a while. It's not always Norman Rockwell, but I believe being home together has nourished and deepened their relationships, the closeness forcing us to deal with heart issues. We're involved in church, music lessons, and occasionally tumbling, but those are our only commitments, so for the most part we are home. We've been asked why we don't have the kids in organized sports. For us personally, considering the commitment and all we would miss out on, it didn't feel right. We headed down that road before and our family ties grew weaker as it drained us all. I know some thrive off of it and it's what they love. But I think many jump in blindly because it's what you're expected to do without stepping back to first decide what they truly want their family culture to be. Doing Spartan races has been a wonderful alternative to organized sports as we can train as a family in our own time, deciding how much time to give it. Once we decided to live counter-culturally, slow and meaningfully, to dare to say no so we can say yes to what are hearts beat for, our lives haven't been free of challenge, but there's a freedom and joy we feel like we're dancing in. "Although our culture seems to worship being busy, constant activity will slowly undermine our perspective on life and kill our souls." ~ Sally Clarkson. "Consider saying no - Dare to 'miss out,' and find out what you really would have missed had you said 'yes." ~Jennifer Dukes Lee.
Each night before we tuck each child in we gather around the living room and read a bit from the Bible, the Gold Thread, or Hero Tales. It's a calming and inspiring way to wind down together. This season of life can be exhausting, but I've never loved what I do more. My hope and prayer is that you too will find deep fulfillment in what you do, that you will have wisdom as to how to guide each child and run your home, that you would know what to embrace and what to say no to, that you would know you're loved, that peace and overflowing joy would fill your hearts and home.
Brandi McIntosh lives in the hills of central Texas with her husband Dan of 17 years, 4 kids, and a few farm animals. They left the city 7 years ago to raise their family out in the wild, hungry for an adventurous, but slow pace of life. The simple life suits them just fine, a life in which they make time and space for what matters most. Brandi can often be found wandering outdoors with her kids, kissing baby rolls, working as designer for the homes they restore, sipping kombucha on her back porch, and reading aloud to the family ~ which may just be her favorite of all. Follow along their intentional journey on Instagram @brandi.mcintosh, and she can occasionally be found blogging at www.brandimcintosh.com