Summer Questions, 2016

Falls ParkWe are at the beginning of the  fourth week of summer here in SC, even though it just turned summer today. Our first two weeks were spent travelling, and last week was recovering. Now, we are looking at eight weeks until public school starts. Whether homeschool will start that week or not is yet to be decided, but the kids are involved in activities that follow the public school schedule, so life will be changing gears at that time.

The kids are signed up for camps and we have lists of concerts, outings, and other fun things we want to do. But after the pace of this last year with a move to SC and amazing and full school opportunities, the summer feels like a wide open space.

Which is restful… until it gets ‘boring’, and we start building ruts that don’t reflect what is important to us or who we are becoming.

The bliss of having older kids (there are many blisses) is that I can brainstorm some questions (that I need to answer myself) and let them do the work of figuring out how to steward their summer. This lines up perfectly with our goal of raising independent learners and leaders.

The kids (and Marc and I) will be expected to make time this week to sit with and journal through these questions. They may share their work or they may keep it private (except for the meals that they will learn).


Sofie turning 7 and sewing

Sofia will be turning 11 soon. This written but unpublished post from about four years ago still holds quite a bit of truth. Sofia has learned a lot about planning ahead (too much?) and is a list maker, especially at bed-time. But she is still bold in trying new things – starting a recipe with step one without reading all the way through. She does check to make sure we have all the ingredients. I am also more comfortable – well, down-right proud of –  her ability to jump in. I think she has learned some from me, and I know I have learned a LOT from her.


from 2012

My baby turned 7 last week. I am now one of those parents whose children can dress themselves, buckle themselves into the car, read to themselves. While our children have always had their own personality, they are all at the age where they can express them in so many ways – in their own ways.


Turning 7


I’m sure I loved having babies. My first two pregnancies I loved being pregnant. But I LOVE having older children. I love their independence and their coming to own their place in the world.

Sofia is our child that is most like Marc. She MIGHT even exceed him in his extroverted approach to life. She is the child that is MOST unlike me. Right now this creates a natural conflict, because she really isn’t certain that I know what I am doing in my role as mother – and that I have some control in her life. Her name means wisdom, and I have been known to ask her at what point she will acquire some – her impulsiveness looking like irresponsibility to me (and my responsibility looking like over-cautiousness to her).

I don’t get not knowing the outcome before I start. When I have situations that I need to be involved in not knowing the outcome, this is high stress for me. Over-planning stresses Sofia out.



Sofia got a sewing machine for her birthday. In a moment of wisdom (mine) I realized I didn’t need to give her too much information. When Anna got her sewing machine a couple years ago, they were accompanied with several how to sew books. With Sofia, it was a enough to show her how to get the machine threaded and plugged in and to keep her fingers out of the way.

And she was off. Trying different stitches. Turning corners. Rounding edges. Making little bags with handles.

No, it won’t go into an Etsy shop right away. But that’s not the point. The point is that she did it, AND I let her.



(text by Paul Gerhardt, 1653; translated by John Wesley, 1737; based on the translation of Psalm 37 by Martin Luther)

~ a hymn sung yesterday in church, I keep playing with these words in my head~

A Few of my Favorite… homeschool tools

The beginning years of homeschooling, in spite of all the preparation, research, and planning that I did, were all about figuring it out. I am still putting plenty of time into figuring it out, but it is less arduous than it was in the Littles Years. I understand the personalities and gifts of my kids more clearly. They understand my expectations more readily. I am willing to just scrap something that isn’t working rather forcing all of us to endure something that is just not a learning experience for us. They have learned to ask when they would like to spend more time some place, less time place, or to go in a totally different direction. Because we have established some of our basic dance steps, I have felt I had the stability to implement some longer-term tools. Here are a few of my favorites.

Homeschooltracker: Oh my goodness. I know not everyone gets a thrill from a great database experience, but I do. And this tool has been worth every penny and minute I have spent on it. This beauty is lesson plan scheduler on steroids. I do the input. The kids check their assignments each day and do them. I can see real-time what they are accomplishing as they check it off. There is also the option to have grading done for the classes (even with a weighted grading scale). It keeps an accurate attendance record, allows me to schedule appointments, days off, and outside classes. The lesson plans I input for Caleb can be used again for Anna and Sofia when it it their turn, and it will be easy to make whatever modifications I need to for each individual student. I love this service.


Google Drive: This is where we do the majority of our history and language arts work. This is where I keep my grade books. The kids answer questions here. I comment on their responses, creating a dialogue setting. The kids do writing assignments and I edit or comment in document.

Preceden Timeline: I have no idea how I found this gem, but I am so thankful for it. Our primary curriculum (Sonlight) recommends keeping a timeline. They offer a big book and stickers, but that didn’t fit our style from the beginning. What they offer can be used year after year and kids travel through years of world history and American history. It is a lovely idea, and I always felt a little sad that we weren’t building that experience into our studies. I found Preceden a few years ago. It is an online digital timeline that can be customized in a number of ways. The way we are using it now is that the kids have one timeline for the school year and are almost daily are putting dates in place. Sofia will complete her second year of American History this year, Anna her second year of World History this year. They will have timelines from last year and this full of the dates from those courses.

Preceden snip

The Great Courses: This is the priciest of my favorite tools. But this course resource can’t be ignored with older learners. We have built classes with these resources as anchors or as supplements. There are multiple formats for the classes. I love that Caleb is learning to learn from a college level lecturer, broadening his learning styles experience. Good news about this resource is that they recently connected with Audible, and if you just want to listen to the lectures (without video or the class material), you can use an Audible credit for purchase. (Audible has been a long-time favorite for our family for audio books.)

KhanAcademy: When we get stuck with math or science, I check here first. Caleb is practicing for SAT using KhanAcademy. We are so thankful for this resource. Remember if you use it to make a donation once in awhile. We want to keep this resource growing.


(I am not an affiliate or employee of any of these companies and have not been compensated for saying nice things about them. I’m just telling you about some things that make our school run well.)

Traveling with parents and kids

Written in 2008, found tucked away in a file on my computer

What is interesting to me about this is that we just had a travelling Christmas vacation with Marc’s Dad. Many of the things that I wrote (and didn’t revisit) seven years ago would still have been great considerations for this trip. The kids being older (and all having their own phone) allows for different flexibility. And the ones needing to be careful about rest time were no longer this younger set.



Now that I am ten years into my parenting journey, and now that my youngest is four and out of diapers, I feel that I am getting quite good at planning a car-trip, an overnight, a plane-ride, and an extended vacation. Recently, my skills were put to the test when we took my parents on vacation with us to King’s Landing Historical Settlement in Fredericton, NB. Here is a list of what I hope I will remember to do next time, when planning a multi-family/generational vacation.

*Do your homework and find out what is going on everywhere. Request books from the tourism bureau for yourself and each household going on the trip. Compile it, include times, phone numbers and directions. Even if something doesn’t look appealing to you, a lecture on grafting fruit trees may be the most exciting option for dear old dad. Remember to ask those that have been to your point of destination, what they want to see. Use FB and twitter to find out what might be going on off the beaten path, and what to avoid.

Anna - 6 years old*Be aggressive about getting everyone to say what their one thing is that they hope to do. Being trained in nice-ness, I didn’t push this point after my first ask. I knew for certain what two people out of seven wanted to experience (and I wasn’t one of them). By the second day I found myself frustrated that we were spending more time in some places and not in others.

*Expect that you are not going to see and do everything that everyone wants to. No matter how much time you have, this is probably true. We have always made it a point to not take the ‘this is a once in a lifetime trip’ approach. It MAY be once in a lifetime, but the pressure that puts on everyone is unfair and no fun.

*Have a rigid schedule for arrivals, departures, meals, and snacks. Waiting for hunger to hit is often too late with kids. Saying we’ll leave when we’ve had enough can be disastrous. I love traveling that way, but for the sake of my kids, and my sanity, our trip would have been less stressful to have put some of these solid boundaries on the path.

*Plan on having some meals separately. Meals while traveling are stressful times for kids (even if they do well with it). Meals with extended family can be the same. Add the two together, and just a meal can exhaust the kids (and parents) . I wish we had planned to have at least one meal a day with just our core family, preferably a ‘sit down and play UNO after the meal’ meal. It’s like a soft reset for everyone’s CPU.

*Build in times to explore together and separately. This morning the girls will be here, the boys will there. This afternoon grandma and grandpa will go to this show, and the kids will go with us to the pool. In the evening, grandma and grandpa will babysit so mom and dad can go have a drink together. (I was not as bold in asking for a break for hubby and I as I should have been.)Mom & Dad

*Evaluate rest and sleeping times, and be generous with them.

*Make caring for travelling plans and documents a team sport. At least two people should have addresses, phone numbers, timetables, and know where passports and other travel documents are at all times.

*Do two debriefings toward the end of the day, preferably with pen and paper. One debriefing would be for me and hubby: what went well, what went poorly. This would not only allow for better planning and preparation, but would also give space to put to bed any frustrations of the day. The other debriefing would be for everyone: what did you love today, where were you surprised by today, what did you learn? The fresh memories written down will be an invaluable addition to a paper or digital compilation of all the photos you’ve taken.

Our vacation to NB was a treat for all of us. We got to spend lovely time with each other in a lovely place. I got to see my son tease my father, and my mother and daughters learn about spinning flax together. My husband listened to my father observe many things that he would have missed, including grafts in fruit trees. We all stood in awe watching wood be split in a water-powered sawmill. And as we considered family and village life in the 1800’s, we were strengthening and enjoying our own family life in the 21st century.

Jones House hats

Jones House hats