My Beamish Brood

My Beamish Brood

Monday, December 22, 2014

My Prayer Today

Up until last week, I was feeling good about our Advent preparations. We have the luxury of staying home most days, so we can shield ourselves from much of the hustle and bustle and focus on preparing our hearts. But then we began our travel preparations and busy family gatherings, and my heart started to wander away from where it should be going into the last week of Advent... so tonight I am taking a break from packing and cleaning to breathe and pray.

I pray that this Christmas season will bring my children even closer together. I pray that they recognize the importance of relationship and community, starting with the tiny community of our family and expanding to the community of humankind.

I pray that their personalities will continue to develop as unique individuals, and that nothing in this world makes them second-guess the desires of their hearts. I pray that God will give them strength and courage to walk a path that no one has walked before, to live radically and joyfully for Him.

I pray that they will rest easy all the days of their lives, knowing that they are loved more than they can ever comprehend. 


I pray that they will always recognize Christ in their lives, even if he comes in unexpected, unbelievable ways... like a tiny child in a dirty stable. 

And I pray all of these things for you, too.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Looks Like Learning

Though I frequently use the term "homeschooling" to describe our family's school choice, a more accurate term would probably be "home education" because rarely does our home resemble anything close to a "school" setting. There are no desks, few worksheets, plenty of chaos. In fact, I know for certain I would fail as a teacher in a traditional setting; my organizational skills are nowhere close to what they would need to be to lead a classroom of twenty-five kids! It's a high calling, that one.

So it looks nothing like a classroom, but our home is full to the brim with learning! We have about an hour of dedicated school time each day, sometimes less if the little ones are especially needy, but we fill our time and space with learning opportunities. I thought I'd give you all a sneak peak, via Iphone snapshots, at what learning has looked like in our home so far this year.

Right now I am using the program Five in a Row, in which we read a picture book each day for five days and do different activities related to that book. I have even created my own "Five in a Row" units out of books that happened to interest the kids. If a book is particularly rich we might read it for eight days! If it falls a little flat, we finish it in two or three. One of our favorites was The Story of Ferdinand, during which we experimented with cork, acted out a bullfight, ate olives and other Spanish food, and watched the Disney cartoon version of the story.

Ferdinand the Bull liked to sit just quietly under the cork tree
Does Ferdinand's cork raft hold him up?
Then my mom took the boys to see the play Zen Ties, based on the book of the same name by John J. Muth. We decided to create our own Five in a Row using that book because the kids loved the story! We made our own chicken noodle soup, made panda faces out of paper plates, had our own two-person spelling bee, learned some simple Chinese characters, and (probably most important) talked about how to treat people who are difficult to get along with.


Another one of our favorite resources this year has been the Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer. We are working our way through ancient history, and Max is enthralled! The book takes us on a whirlwind tour through thousands of years of history, and the accompanying activity book is chock full of extensions. There are four books in the series, and we plan to return to Volume 1 in four years and dive much deeper into the history. But for now, the boys are enjoying meeting all kinds of exciting people from all different times and places. 

King Max wearing the double crown of Ancient Egypt
Regular visits to the library are an indispensable part of our education. I keep my ear out for topics that the kids want to learn more about and search out books on those topics. Plus we keep a constant stream of new picture books coming in and (often thankfully) going back again. We also use the library as a resource for new CDs and audiobooks. I honestly don't know how I could homeschool without a library card! We have a reading curriculum that I'm using intermittently with Max as his interest in reading increases, plus we are enjoying the Bob Books phonics readers- perfect for my results-oriented, perfectionist son who no longer glances at a book and instantly says, "I can't read it." I have a feeling we will soon have a reader in the house!

For math and science I am not using any formal curriculum, but since I have naturally curious children, the opportunities to learn abound! We did lots of backyard exploring in the fall, but now that we've moved indoors for the colder months, the Legos and chess board are suddenly getting tons of use. I am not joking when I say that I have to pull them away from hours of Lego play for meal times... many days they would forget to eat were it left up to them.

The longer I'm at it, the more I'm convinced that the greatest gift I can give my kids in their education is the time and space to explore. There are many days that I doubt myself and wonder if I should spend more time on worksheets and memorization, then I see them knee-deep in leaves and Legos and I know that they are becoming life-long learners.

I hope you've enjoyed this little peak within our walls. Feel free to drop by and see the chaos in action; the pictures only show a carefully selected piece at a time. In reality we are not always smiling, but we are always learning!

Blind taste-tests: learning about the senses!

Backyard exploration... I had no idea there were so many bugs out there
Playing with math manipulatives: sorting, counting, and building a farm
Our morning routine: breakfast and a game of chess before anyone else wakes up
Have I told you I'm reeeeally bad at chess?
Making up our own math games involving dominoes and playing cards

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Carving Company

As Halloween approached this year, I was feeling a little down because it was looking like no one would be joining us for pumpkin carving. For as long as we have lived in our house, we have shared the pumpkin-carving duties with some special person or other. Our helpers for the last two years, Chris and (now Father) Grant are no longer in the area. Bummer! But we planned to make the best of it... me juggling a baby and a camera, Paul helping with the carving and roasting the pumpkin seeds. How it would have actually worked, I have no idea.

Then Uncle Patrick called the Wednesday before Halloween, asking if he and a friend could crash at our house on Thursday night on their way to visit friends in Winona. Thursday night, pumpkin carving night! But they weren't planning to arrive until late, long after the pumpkins had been carved and the kids pajama'd.

After dinner I went upstairs to print templates for our pumpkins when I heard the door open. Hours earlier than they thought, Patrick and Dan showed up just in time for carving! They ate a quick dinner and settled right in: Patrick helping Lucian carve a ghost on his pumpkin, and Dan assisting Audrey with her lion. She took to Dan right away, and they were best buds for the rest of the visit. (She's quite the charmer to everyone but me...)

Uncle Peej was barely recognizable with a lion's mane of his own. (Cut that hair, dude!) And I feel infinitely more cultured now that he introduced me to the term "Man Bun"... file that under "hairstyles I never needed to know or see".  Oh well, we love him just the same! I couldn't help feeling a little jealous that he has better hair than I do, or my daughters ever will. But enough about Patrick's hair. The kids loved the quick visit, and we are looking forward to spending much more time with their uncle at Christmas!


Why yes I did go trick-or-treating in costume this year!
Olaf, ghost and lion pose with their matching pumpkins

Monday, November 24, 2014

Pick a Little

Do you see those smiles? DO YOU SEE THOSE SMILES??
This fall we were able to celebrate my very favorite season of the year in my very favorite way... not once, but twice! Apple picking! I look forward to it all year round, and so do my kids. At the most random times throughout the year they will bring up our trip to the orchard, asking if we are making plans yet. Then at the first hint of fall, they turn it up a notch. If ever there is a year where we don't make it to the orchard I think they'll disown me. Heck, I'd disown myself!

To me, there is nothing quite as magical as strolling through the gnarled apple trees, eating our way from one end to the other. The fall weather makes me feel giddy, like I could just drift up and out of my skin. And the apples! The apples. There is something about an apple straight from the tree that puts it in a class by itself. Honestly, they are not always the most delicious; some varieties and some years are much better than others. But they are by far the best. Every one of them.

With all this in mind, you shouldn't be surprised that we took over 200 pictures during our two trips to the orchard. Deciding which ones to share with you here has been nothing short of devastating. Just imagine: for every beautiful photo you see here, there are thirty more that just barely missed the cut.

We went once with Maureen and Liam when they stopped through on their way back from visiting Kelley and Tim. We went on a Wednesday and we were nearly the only people in the entire place! Then we returned with my parents on a weekend; it was much busier, but there was face painting! Are your kids obsessed with face painting like mine? I don't know what it is... I could never stand the feeling of paint on my face. Aaaand... there was wood fire pizza. That made up for the crowd, hands down. Both trips were amazing. As I look out my window at the snow, I can't believe we're already through another fall and on our way into winter. But I know the questions will start soon. "Mom, when are we going apple picking?"

Grandma and the grandkids

My dad's apple artwork caught the attention of the tractor driver ("That's the best thing I've seen all year!")

Brothers. I love this.

Liam Doolittle chills with the goats

Grandma and Grandpa with the girls
Me and my sweetie sipping apple wine in the middle of a sunflower field... talk about poetic!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Teaching My Fish

"Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire" -St. Catherine of Siena

You probably wouldn't guess it from looking at them, but these pictures document my worst day yet of our homeschooling journey. In fact, while it got nominally better after that day, I came dangerously close to throwing in the schooling towel after the first two weeks. It's probably a good thing I wasn't blogging then because I would have written something halfhearted, trying to sound positive about the whole thing. A little ways out (and a few normal to awesome weeks under my belt) I have a bit more perspective on what went wrong, what I could have done, and what I just had to live with. 

Let me start at the beginning. I get super excited for the start of each school year. I make crowns for the kids, I wrap up their school supplies, together we choose a saint and a quote for our year. This year it is St. Joseph of Cupertino, chosen by Max for his gift of levitation during prayer. At first I was a little unsure of this saint as our school saint... he wasn't known for his brains; in fact, he failed at a lot of things he tried to do. What kind of role model was that for our school year? And then it hit me: he's perfect. He was an incredibly holy man who loved God with his whole heart. Isn't that what I want for my kids? One of the great things about homeschooling is that my children don't have to strive to meet academic standards before they are ready so I am free to focus on what really matters: faith, values, and character development. So Joseph of Cupertino was added to our litany of saints and I began praying for his intercession in our schooling.

Then I started hearing friends talk about reading levels and math curriculum. I saw teachers on Facebook posting about their classes, and I began to panic. Max isn't reading yet! He doesn't know all of his basic math facts! He's behind! I pulled together the different parts of my curriculum with the goals of reading and math at the top of my list, edging out inspiration and love of learning.  It had been easy to follow the trails of Max's interests when he was in preschool and kindergarten; no one expects a kindergartner to be a fluent reader, and a four year old who is obsessed with the Hobbit sounds really impressive! But suddenly there were expectations, and frankly I was terrified that my son would be labeled "behind" his peers when I know how brilliant he is. As Albert Einstein so perfectly stated it, "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." I love that homeschooling allows my children to learn at their own pace, without being labeled or put into a box. 

But for some reason (pride, I'm guessing) I was still trying to put my kids in a box. The first day of school started and I had the kids sit down and practice writing the letter 'a'. Max balked. Lucian ran away. Audrey wanted a snack. And Edith cried. I spent the rest of the day fuming, mad at myself for failing on my first day, mad at the kids for not doing what they were told. I'm sure Max was dumbfounded. School for him had always been the highlight of his day. "School" meant the time when we learn about things that are interesting, and while Max is interested in a lot of things, writing the letter 'a' is not currently one of those things. 

After a few days of powering through my original plan for the week, I threw in the towel and started from scratch. I loved homeschooling last year, why had I psyched myself out enough to almost ruin it for everyone? With such a rough start it took awhile to get back into our groove, but I'm happy to say that we're on track once again. I am listening to my children, working with their interests, and having a grand old time. We have kept some of my original curriculum pieces in a drastically modified form, and I have discovered the wonder that is Pinterest to find better ways to inspire my kids to learn those things that I do believe are essential.

And I tell you what, Max is on the road to reading. He still has a long way to go but we are making steps at his pace, and he never needs to think that going slow is a negative. Even more important to me, though, is that he is once again telling anyone who asks that school is his favorite time of day.