Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Once a Reader...

I know we aren't even halfway through this year, but I'm going to go ahead and claim 2018 as 'The Year I Re-Discovered Reading". I've already written about the reading challenge I'm doing this year, and how a big goal of mine for this year has been to read more and to read better quality books. It's honestly going a million times better than I had ever hoped. I set the goal hoping it would help me make my limited downtime more purposeful and to set a good example for my kids (especially Sam as his reading is becoming more and more fluent). What I didn't expect when setting this goal for myself, was that I was going to rediscover a part of me that I had lost, an unfortunate casualty of motherhood. I discovered the part of me that had always identified as a "reader".

Books have always been just as much a part of my life as family members. All of my memories include books in some way. My earliest memory, watching my brother Billy's birth when I was 4 years old, includes the memory of sitting on a worn birth center couch being read to while my mom was in labor. Without any effort, I can hear my dad's voice changing for each character as he read Berenstein Bear books to us in one of the boys' beds before we went to sleep, my mom's voice reading Harry Potter to us in their bed.

I remember the absolute thrill I felt when I finished reading my first chapter book all on my own (Little House on the Prairie). I remember book reports in school, before we started homeschooling. One year we gave oral presentations of a book we chose ourselves and got to bring in a snack to go with it. I read Listen to the Nightingale and brought iced tea and tea sandwiches. One of my classmates (I don't remember who) read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and brought in Turkish Delight.

When I was 13, my mom and I flew out to San Fransisco to visit my aunt, uncle, and brand new baby cousin. My biggest memory of my first plane ride was that I was reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire which I had purchased with my own babysitting money when it was released at a big midnight party shortly before leaving for our trip. I remember finishing it on the plane ride home and gasping so loud when I read about Lord Voldemort returning that my mom jumped and asked me if I was ok. I told her I needed her to hurry up and read the book so that we could talk about it.

When we started going to the beach in Lewes every summer, my favorite part was re-reading The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (a tradition) and then diving into a huge stack of library books. "Go to the library" always topped my mom's to do list when getting ready to leave for vacation.

One Christmas Eve I decided to stay up almost the whole night and read most of Little Women. I was a little bleary eyed the next morning, but it was worth it. I had just really wanted to spend Christmas with the March sisters.

My first summer ballet intensive (Washington, DC 2003) was so memorable in so many ways, but a big one was that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was released right before I went away and it was on the top of the big pile of books I had packed. Several other dancers were reading it and a friend and I made sure to read it around the same pace, meaning we both learned of Sirius Black's fate on the same day and could comfort each other. 2 years later, at a summer intensive in Carlisle, PA I was reading the just released Half Blood Prince and finished the day before a friend, which meant I needed no explanation when she came bursting into my room sobbing with the book in her hand.

I remember in high school, the Language Arts curriculum my mom had me using introduced me to Emily Dickinson's poetry and from there I went through a phase of reading a lot of YA books written in verse. Some of better quality than others. One of my high school years I read Jane Austen's Emma and it made it's way onto my favorite books of all time list. I remember sitting in my loft bed (where I ended up doing most of my schoolwork a lot of days) actually eager to do my Language Arts because answering the questions felt like talking to somebody about the book I had loved, and who doesn't love discussing a book you really enjoyed?!

When I graduated high school and moved to Annapolis to dance, I had a part time job in a coffee shop/book store and it took incredible amounts of willpower not to blow my entire paycheck on books. As it was, I often went home with a few.

During a dark period in my early 20s, when a boyfriend had broken my heart, I hurried home from dancing and teaching every evening to read for hours. I read really sad books that helped me escape my own feelings. It felt oddly nice to cry for other people instead of myself for a change. (Said boyfriend is now my husband, so this memory has a happy ending!)

When James and I first got married, our combined libraries made up most of our moving boxes. In our tiny apartment, and with our meager budget, we made displaying every single book on a bookshelf a priority. An entire wall of our living room in that apartment (and the one we moved to a year and a half later) was filled with books.

The first summer we were married, I was often alone, since James spent most of that summer in the field. Once I got over my initial terror over driving on base, I went weekly to the library, and spent my days sitting by the pool, devouring everything by Emily Giffin and big stacks of other novels.

Taking the train home to PA to get ready for our 2nd wedding, a week ahead of James, I plowed through most of The Biography of Henry VIII, one of the longest books I'd ever read (and one of my favorites).

When I found out I was pregnant with Sam, I called my mom and when she asked what I was up to that day, I said, "Oh, just on my way to Barnes and Noble to buy some pregnancy books." by way of sharing the news. Immediately beginning to read every pregnancy book I could get my hands on was my very first instinct when I saw the positive test.

But then came babies. After Sam was born, I struggled to find time to read. There seemed to be so much else to do and we were having too much trouble figuring out the nursing thing for me to be able to read and nurse at the same time. As he got older, I seemed to have more time, but that quickly reading had ceased to be a habit and books were no longer my constant companions. Through the next few years of motherhood, I still read, and certain memories are still tied with books (When we moved to our house on base, while I was pregnant with Kate, I remember reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society on a camp chair in our mostly empty house, waiting for the moving truck to arrive), but I wasn't reading nearly as much as I always had before and long stretches of time would go by where I didn't finish a single book.

I honestly didn't notice it for a while. There were just so many other things going on in my life. I'd still mention reading any time I was asked what my hobbies were. I still went to the library a lot, mostly to check out children's books, but only ever checked out 1 or 2 for myself. I read daily to my kids, we still had big bookshelves in our living room. Eventually though, I started to realize how little I was actually reading. And when I realized that, I realized something else. I missed it. I missed reading so much. I missed being able to lose myself in a book and I missed becoming invested in characters lives. I missed that little break from your own life that reading gives you.

Missing it wasn't enough to get back to where I had been though. It was enough to make an effort here and there, but after spurts of reading a small stack of books, I'd go back to rarely picking one up.

I had all the excuses. "I'm too busy.", "I'm too tired.", "My kids won't let me just sit down and read." Then I started to realize I was full of crap. I remember my mom telling me that everybody has time to read, but that it's all about how you prioritize your time. I also remember brushing that off and insisting that, no. Really. I had no time to read. Eventually, I realized my mom was right and I should have listened to her sooner (about this and about a million other things 😉 Love you mom!) I thought back to my own childhood and remembered her reading while she ate, while she cooked, at red lights... Everybody has time to read.

Many factors went into my decision to make reading a priority again, but chief among them was definitely the homeschooling curriculum we have been using this year. I've spent this whole school year (we only have 2.5 weeks left!!!!) reading so many really awesome books to my kids out loud and it has been such a wonderful reminder of the power of words! Along with that, watching Sam read better and better, and seeing him go through piles of books on his own has made me think about how much I loved books and reading as a kid, how excited I am for him to meet all of the characters I remember and still love, and how much I want to raise readers.

Now I feel like I'm 'back'. Like I can, once again, really for real be classified as a 'reader'. I stay up too late sometimes and neglect other things I should be doing sometimes (breakfast was a tad late this morning because I just had to finish the last chapter of Unbroken). I didn't realize just how much I missed this part of myself until I started finding it again, and I am so, so very glad that I did.

Monday, March 12, 2018

How We Homeschool Preschool

As a homeschooler, I answer a lot of questions from friends, family, acquaintances, and even strangers in the grocery store. It's different than what most people are used to so there is naturally a lot of curiosity. And I love it. I love answering each and every question I'm asked. No matter who is asking or how many times I've answered the same question. I just love it. So, if you're somebody who has always had a question (or several) about homeschooling, ask me. I would be so happy to answer!

One question I get more often than most others, and this is probably just because this is sort of just my demographic right now, is, "How do you homeschool preschool?". Or, "What do you do with toddlers for school?". My answer has really evolved since Sam was 3 years old and I first started "homeschooling". Life has changed since then, but also my general homeschooling philosophy has changed a ton. It has happened bit by bit as I figured out what worked best for us, but it made a huge shift in the middle of last year when I was newly pregnant with Anna, feeling miserable, and way burnt out only doing Kindergarten. You can read more about that here, but basically I discovered and started researching a few styles of teaching that advocated for no formal learning before age 6. Already feeling stressed about mixing a 1st grade and pre-k year while also bringing home another baby, I took that and ran with it.

So, the short answer to, "How do you homsechool preschool?" is simply, "We don't." There are, however, plenty of things that I do intentionally do for the good of all my children really that could probably, for lack of a better term, be called our preschool "curriculum".

Quality children's literature.
We own tons of kids picture books and also try to get to the library at least once a month. Since discovering Charlotte Mason, I'm more careful about the quality of the books that we buy or check out of the library. I've heard other Charlotte Mason homeschoolers compare books to junk food or healthy food. Junk is fine in moderation, as long as you're maintaining a healthy diet otherwise. For our "healthy" books I look for beautiful illustrations, and good vocabulary. If I've learned nothing else from doing Charlotte Mason homeschooling this year, it's that children are far more capable of understanding a much wider vocabulary than we give them credit for. You can't go wrong with classics from authors like Robert McCloskey, Eric Carle, Jan Brett, and Ezra Jack Keats.

Outside time.
Some days this is harder than others, but we do our best. Sam and Kate are old enough at 6 and 4 to go out in the backyard by themselves, as long as they stay where I can easily see them out the back windows and stay out of the cornfields and front yard (we live on a back road, which means there are plenty of people who go flying by, well over the speed limit, so no front yard playing for us). That makes it easier because I can't always be outside, but I do make an effort to get Henry and Anna out there as much as I can too. Walks outside are good for everybody and provide endless learning opportunities for preschoolers (and everybody else!) We have nature journals and some field guides, and Sam does a little bit more of a structured nature study, but for preschool Kate is just exploring and I answer her questions if she has any.

Cooking and baking.
Again, endless learning opportunities without having to do anything special at all. I don't make baking a "lesson" at all, everybody just pulls a chair up to the counter and takes turns adding ingredients. They end up learning to count, seeing kind of how fractions work, learning what sorts of things need to work together to make food, what happens to certain things when they get hot or cold (like how water can boil and turn to steam or it can freeze and turn to ice). I have to cook anyway, why not let them help and learn without actually doing any planning or lessons right?

Our first grade curriculum includes monthly folk songs and hymns as well as composer studies. The little ones listen along to those and I also play a variety of music all throughout our days. Again, no lesson planning, but sometimes Kate has questions and I answer them. "This sounds different than the other one, why?" "Well the last one was a string quartet and this one is a piano solo." "What does quartet mean?" "4" "Okay." Just by playing a ton of music every day (a habit I started back when Sam was a toddler) I've noticed that Kate has a really good ear for music and picks up the emotions in different pieces. When she was 2 I was playing Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet and she said, "Mama, dis so sad." Sam is more likely to notice the volume of a particular piece and likes to pick out different instruments. Henry is already really good at catching the rhythm of whatever we're listening to and clapping or dancing fairly close to on beat. I love seeing all of the different ways they all hear and react to music! We also sing a lot of your usual preschool songs (and everybody really loves the 'days of the week' song!), but, in keeping with Charlotte Mason's philosophy, we really focus on quality! I think music is so important in any school at any age, but besides that, its very helpful at 'that' time of day before dinner and bedtime. I can have a little control over everybody's moods (mine included!) with the music I choose to play.

Sam has a scheduled picture study and Kate and Henry both like to look at whatever he's studying with him and play along when I cover it up and ask him to tell me what he remembers from it, but I don't make them. Sometimes they're not interested and obviously that's fine, since it's 1st grade work. I also don't plan or prep many crafts ahead of time for them. Drawing materials are always available and everybody is encouraged to use them. No formal drawing instruction or anything though. That, again, will start in first grade. Kate taught herself to draw flowers recently though copying out of a book about flowers that we have. I'm getting ready to teach Sam how to finger knit and I know that's something a 4 year old can easily do as well, so that will be a lesson where I will intentionally include Kate. Other handicrafts Sam has done, like yarn wrapped sticks and watercolors, Kate participates in if she wants to. She has her own pair of scissors that she is allowed to get out of the closet if she asks first, but I don't do planned "scissor skill" work or anything like that. Same with glue sticks, they're available (if they ask permission first) and they can glue whatever kind of creation they want to. So those are skills Kate has picked up on her own.

Life skills.
I think at the preschool age, it's just as important to teach life skills as it is to teach the alphabet. Sweeping, sink cleaning, vegetable and fruit washing, bed making, sock matching, drink pouring, snack making, and all things of that nature. This is all a little more in line with Maria Montessori than Charlotte Mason, although Ms. Mason was also an advocate for small children being able to do things for themselves. We don't do these things as lessons, I just make sure Kate learns the correct way to do them when they come up in life. Making her bed and cleaning the downstairs bathroom sink are her morning chores and she's getting pretty good at folding her extra blankets to lay at the foot of her bed!

In addition to all of these things that just happen in our daily life, I do have a few things put together that I can grab when Kate or Henry just have to do schoolwork like Sam. Or just when I need to occupy Henry long enough and quietly enough to get something accomplished with Sam. I have a bin of various beads, stones, beans, pom poms, pipe cleaners, etc and also a bin of little tongs, scoops, bowls, and cups. They can string beads on pipe cleaners, sort pom poms (or beads or beans or coins) by color or number into bowls or a muffin tin, pick up little things from one bowl with tongs and transfer them to another, all sorts of different little activities working their fine motor skills and keeping them fairly quiet. I cut up a bunch of cardboard rectangles and used glitter glue to write out the alphabet on them. They're fun (and pretty!) to play with and running their fingers over the bumpy, glittery letters is a pre-writing activity. Last year Kate had some matching games with laminated strips of paper and clothespins, but we haven't really gotten those out much this year. When Kate really wants to do school, we can do a ton with just one alphabet puzzle. She sings the ABCs, counts the letters, sorts them by color, traces them all with her finger, whatever she wants to do that satisfies her need to 'do school' that day. She also has a binder with laminated worksheets that she can work on with a dry erase marker, but we haven't used it in a couple months.

Something Charlotte Mason talks about a lot when she's discussing the 'early years' in her books is habit training. In most Charlotte Mason circles, when anybody asks what to do with the under 6 crowd, habit training, good books, and outside time are the top 3 answers. Habit training like attentiveness, obedience, orderliness, things you want your kids to know anyway, but you are just a little more intentional with it. For the habit of obedience we play red light green light or simon says. There are lots of ways to work on these habits through play (or schoolwork with older kids) and then they carry over into regular life as well.

So if the short answer to, "How do you homeschool preschool?" is, "We don't." the long answer would probably be that we don't really plan anything structured, but we make sure that the tools for good preschool learning are readily available. In addition to all of the things I've already talked about, we try to keep our playroom pretty 'open ended' (meaning little to no battery operated stuff) and our screen time minimal. I like to think that I'm giving Kate the tools to learn everything a preschooler should really be expected to know, and then letting her decide how and when to use them.

Every child learns differently. What works for one might not work at all for another, but this hands off approach can easily be tailored to different needs. Kate is not an especially self motivated learner. A big reason that we did attempt a more structured preschool with Sam was that he wanted to know all of the things and he wanted to know them immediately. I can see now though that he learned more and better when we stepped back from the structure and let him have more free reign. Even not being a very self motivated learned Kate has, in her own time, learned so much so far this school year. I was so nervous to be so hands off with her because she does tend to need more direction, but oh my goodness. She's flourishing! She is surprising me every day with things she is suddenly aware of and able to do. She learns at a very different pace than Sam, and different things click more easily for her than for him, but she's getting it all. Giving her the tools and the space to explore is giving her everything she needs. Today, for the first time, she got a piece of paper and copied the whole alphabet from our puzzle while I was doing a history reading with Sam. I was so proud and so relieved! It's hard to let go of your kids sometimes and let them figure things out on their own. That applies to schoolwork and a whole list of other things that I'm sure we're only in the extreme early stages of experiencing!

Preschoolers are amazing. And they are capable of so much more than we often give them credit for. They just need the space to do it!

I hope this post has answered some questions that I know many people have about homeschooling little ones and, like I said in the beginning of this post, I love homeschooling questions so please friends, never hesitate to ask!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

What's Working and What's Not

We are 1 week into our third and final term of school for the year and, for the first time, I'm so happy with all of my choices and super excited to pick it all right back up again next year! This curriculum is just such a good fit for our family and I'm even seeing its positive impacts on my non-school aged littles. We all know toddlers and kids are little sponges, soaking up information all around them, and it has been incredibly amazing to see Kate and Henry soaking up all of the fantastic information being spread for Sam. How fun to hear your 2 year old count to 10 in French, unprompted, or to have your 4 year old tell you where the Saxons came from and what they did in ancient Britain!

As much as we are loving this curriculum and absolutely plan on using it for years to come, there are of course some little tweaks and adjustments to be made here and there moving forward. So today I'm sharing what has been really working well so far for us this year, as well as what hasn't.

What working: 4 day school weeks. The material we are scheduled to cover each week condenses well into 4 days and free days are nice to have, even though we get all of our work done fairly quickly on school days.

What's not working: Picking one day to always be our off day. At the beginning of the year I figured we'd just always take off on Thursdays since it tends to be our busiest day. That actually ended up feeling really restrictive and we homeschool specifically so we won't feel restricted by anything! Now I look at our schedule for the upcoming week and pick which day we'll take off, but sometimes I change my mind halfway through the week, and sometimes we actually just spread 4 days of work over 5 days. I don't even always chose our busiest day as our day off, occasionally we'll still do our scheduled schoolwork on a busy day, to give us a really quiet day at some point with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Flexibility. We love it.

What's not working: Morning being our only school time. This one kind of goes hand in hand with what I just said about our days off being flexible. At the start of the year I figured the day we were busiest in the morning would be the day we took off, since I didn't really want us to be doing school in the afternoon. I do still very much try and stay within our usual blocked schedule, but I've added schoolwork as a possibility into some of our later blocks.

What is working: Copywork and drawing upstairs during rest time, reading aloud to the little ones when I need a quiet minute, schoolwork in the lobby at ballet, schoolwork outside, reviewing word cards with me while I cook dinner. Again, flexibility.

What's not working: Trying to plan out activities ahead of time for Kate and Henry.

What is working: Flying by the seat of my pants, to be completely honest. Some days I tell them to go to the playroom and just play, some days I just toss a pencil and a piece of paper their way, some days I pull something from my bins of pre-school activities. A lot of days though they are both begging to "do school" and I've found I'm able to satisfy them with just our alphabet puzzle. We can cover letters, counting, and colors with just the one puzzle.

What's not working: Setting aside specific times for school readings. We started the year going to the couch to read, or reading while I nursed Anna. Life got busier as the year went on though and we needed to multitask more.

What is working: Reading during mealtimes (we had already been doing that from the beginning to some extent, now I'm just doing it more) and reading during clean up time. Reading to them while they clean up toys has been working really well. They focus on actually getting toys picked up rather than messing around when I'm in there with them and they focus on the reading because they're just cleaning and not playing. I've gotten some really good narrations from Sam during clean up and even Kate has chimed in with her own narrations sometimes.

What's not working: Picking and writing copywork each individual day.

What is working: Planning and writing out a full week of copywork on Sunday afternoons. I had planned to do this from the beginning of the year, but slacked off through the fall and into the holiday season and was trying to choose and write copywork every single morning. Doing it ahead of time in so much better especially because copywork is something Sam does pretty independently. He often does it in the morning after breakfast, while I'm doing dishes or dressing the little ones. On busy days he'll do it in his room during rest time. As long as it's coming back to me with nice, neat letter formation it doesn't matter to me where or when he does it.

There are also some things that I planned on doing from the beginning that we have continued doing all year because they're working extremely well. Namely: Bible, poetry, and prayers over breakfast and using toys to keep characters straight while reading Shakespeare.

Then there are also some things we've been doing a little, but that I want to do better or more consistently in this last term and next year. Nature study, for one. We do it, but not as consistently or as intentionally as I would like.

Handicrafts are something else I'd like to improve on. We've done a couple things here and there with great success and I'm really hoping that we can learn some new things and do them more often.

Yarn wrapped sticks were really fun and have really brightened up our dining room!

Something that my mom always did for us when we were homeschooling, that I'm hoping to carry on with my own family, was weekly poetry tea. It's also a very "Charlotte Mason-y" type of activity, but for whatever reason it hasn't been really high on my priority list. Probably has something to do with the whole having a newborn thing. 😉 We did manage to have our first poetry tea this past week and it was wonderful! Even Henry sat so nicely, carefully sipping his milky tea from a fragile tea cup and listening to me and Sam read poems out loud. I'm going to strive, for now, for poetry tea at least twice a month. When Anna's naps get more consistent we can try for once a week.

All in all, like I said before, I'm very pleased with how our year is going! We are managing to get all of our work done and still feeling very free and flexible, which is exactly what I was hoping for when planning this year. Sam is clearly learning so much and Kate and Henry are absorbing much more than I ever expected they would. I am looking forward now to finishing this year strong and am already doing some planning for next year!

Friday, January 19, 2018

2018 Reading Challenge

Last year, I sat down to make some goals for 2017, and came across Modern Mrs. Darcy's blog. She had a really fun looking reading challenge and I felt excited to try it! But then... morning sickness. Reading, unfortunately, makes my first trimester nausea markedly worse. Boo. I could have picked up the challenge halfway through the year when I was feeling better, but life happened and I didn't. I did read more last year than I had the previous couple years, but not a ton, and not many books worth remembering.

This year though! This year, top of my goals list is to read more and read better quality books. Top of my daily habits I want to maintain for 2018 is reading daily. So I am super excited to really dive into Modern Mrs. Darcy's 2018 Reading Challenge! I've already chosen most of my books, but still have some empty spaces, so please feel free to chime in with appropriate recommendations friends! Here is the challenge from the blog:

And here are my selections so far:

A classic I've been meaning to read: Catcher in the Rye by: J.D. Salinger
Recommended by someone with great taste:
A book in translation: Shadow of the Wind by: Carlos Ruiz Zafon
A book nominated for a 2018 award:
A book of poetry: The Sun and Her Flowers by: Rupi Kaur
A book you can read in 1 day:
A book over 500 pages: Gone With the Wind by: Margaret Mitchell
A book by your favorite author: Open House by: Elizabeth Berg
A book by an author of a different race than me: The Bluest Eye by: Toni Morrison
A memoir: Night by: Elie Weisel
A book recommended by a librarian or indie bookseller: 
A banned book: The Handmaid's Tale by: Margaret Atwood

I would like to (roughly) read one of these each month, hopefully making reading enough of a habit that I can sprinkle in plenty of other books in between! I decided to start strong with my pick for a book over 500 pages and I'm on track to finish that before the end of the month!

Because tracking things on paper keeps me motivated and I love my bullet journal so much, I've made some pages in there to keep track of my progress. One is to keep track of all the books I read this year, one as a reference to remember the books I've chosen, and one (so far) to track my progress on a specific book (I most likely won't do this for every book, but for a particularly long book like Gone With the Wind, it has been motivating!)

I am so excited for this challenge and I will be sharing my progress as I go! Please let me know if any of you decide to take on this challenge yourself! I would love to hear what everybody is planning on reading this year! 

Friday, January 12, 2018

Setting Up My Bullet Journal

Sometime in the fall of 2016 I stumbled across a few 'bullet journaling' pins on Pinterest. As somebody who loves order and organization, but also likes a fair amount of flexibility, bullet journaling almost seemed to good to be true. But it also looked way too intriguing to pass up!

A Bullet Journal is basically a customized planner that you create yourself in a blank notebook. Ryder Carroll, a digital product designer from NY, first developed the bullet journaling system, but it has evolved and changed as people have adopted it and made it their own. (Read more about the original system here) The beauty of bullet journaling is that it can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be, it can change to fit your needs month to month or even day to day. Scrolling through bullet journaling pins on Pinterest or #bulletjournal on Instagram can be incredibly overwhelming, but when you remember that the main point of a bullet journal is to turn a blank notebook into whatever you need, it suddenly doesn't seem so bad!

I've shared some photos of my bullet journal "spreads" on social media and everybody always seems to want to know more! So I thought I'd show what setting up my bullet journal for 2018 looked like. Other comments I often get are that it looks like too much work, or that the blank pages are just too daunting for a perfectionist. The daunting pages? YES. I get that. I totally get that. I've been doing this bullet journaling thing for close to a year and a half now and blank pages still make me so nervous! But it's actually helping me honor the perfectionist in me, while also relaxing my standards a little bit. As far as it being a lot of work, it is a fair amount of work. It's work that I don't mind though, and I don't think it's quite as much work as it might seem. To hurry things along each month, I've made templates of my most used layouts, so I can just quickly trace them without having to measure them out again every time. And months that I am just incredibly busy and don't have a weekend naptime to devote to making that month's pages (that's all it takes), I super simplify my pages so they only take a few minutes to put together. The initial set up is probably the most work because I have a few trackers set up to track things that I do all year long. But those are done now! Those trackers are all set up for the whole year. If you have been intrigued by bullet journals before, but have been nervous about messing up or not having enough time, I encourage you to just try a few pages in any old notebook you have laying around! It might not be the right system for you, but you also might find just the kind of planner you've been needing (and gain a fun hobby too!)

So we'll start with your tools. When I first decided to try bullet journaling, I used a blank notebook I just happened to have laying around, and a plain pen. That's it. I didn't want to get too fancy until I knew it was going to work for me. After a few months of that, I knew I wanted to keep it going, so I splurged for a Leuchtturm notebook with dotted pages. I knew I wanted either dotted or grid pages, to make it easier to make little boxes and whatnot, and the dotted pages looked cleaner to me. I chose the Leuchtturm over other dotted page journals because it has an index and numbered pages already. I also got a set of Stabilo colored pens. But please, let me make this very clear, you do not need fancy pens or notebooks to bullet journal! A $1 spiral notebook from the drugstore and any pen you have lying around works just as well. I feel like I need to emphasize this because I initially got very caught up in having the "right" tools to do this, but while I'm very happy with my fancy-ish notebook and pens, I was just as happy with my drugstore notebook and Bic pen! It's also helpful to have a ruler or something similar to help make straight edges.

You can see my templates on the right of this photo. Super helpful once you've found layouts you like!

When I'm ready to set up a new bullet journal, I like to first make a list of what I need. I've tried daily pages before, but it was too much prep work for me, so I personally need a monthly calendar page and then weekly planner pages. I also do monthly meal planning (more about that here!) so I need a place to write all of that down. I follow a cleaning schedule and like having a way to track that, bill tracker, monthly budgets. Basically I just make a list of everything I want to track and keep in the same place. Then I scroll through Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration. Using some ideas I find and some of my own creativity based on my personal needs, I draw up some rough drafts to see if what's in my head translates to paper. This year I had some pages at the end of 2017's journal to sketch and plan in, but the previous year I just used scrap paper.

Once I have a good idea of what I need, I group them into yearly and monthly. I put all of the trackers that cover the whole year in the beginning of my journal, and then after that I group the monthly pages together and just do one month at a time. These are my yearly and monthly "collections". The first page I do is the key. Mine is loosely based off of the original bullet journaling approach that I referenced earlier in this post.

Something that I'm changing up this year is actually utilizing the index and numbered pages. I didn't keep up with that last year and I really wished I had!

I like my very first page, before any trackers or lists, to be the 'theme word' that I've chosen for the year. I came across this idea last year, choosing a theme word rather than making a lot of resolutions, and I've been a big fan! This year's word is 'joy'.

Then I get all of my trackers that cover the whole year, as well as a copy of my cleaning schedule. The cleaning schedule is just for reference, I use a tracker in my monthly collections to actually keep track of what is getting done. Covering the whole year I have monthly habits, bill tracking, birthdays, and a "year at a glance" calendar for reference. I also like to keep a running "waiting on" page to track what packages I have coming in (especially helpful around Christmas time!!) This year I put that in with the yearly collections, but I'll likely need a new one later on that I'll put wherever I am at that point.

2 Thursdays? Hmmm. Mistakes happen. That's what white out is for right? Although, to be honest, I haven't fixed this yet. I'm learning to let some things slide 😛

After my yearly collection was in, I went ahead and did my January collection. Monthly I do a cleaning tracker, daily habit tracker, budget, month calendar page, menu, grocery list for monthly shopping, and weekly spreads.

I think habit tracking might seem silly to some, but personally I am very motivated by things like this. I am more likely to run back upstairs to make my bed if I know I'll break a streak of neatly colored squares if I don't! I know I can't be alone in this. Right?!

We are Dave Ramsey groupies and this is the layout that works best for our income. Expenses are listed on the left and the dated columns are paydays. We assign every dollar of each paycheck to expenses.

This is not the grocery list I actually take shopping with me, but this is where I write out the ingredients I need for all of the dinners on the menu. I do the menu and list all at the same time while I have the cookbooks and recipe links in front of me. Then when I go to make my grocery list, this part is already done and I can just fill in what I need for our other meals and snacks.

My monthly spread is usually the same, but sometimes the left side changes up a bit depending on that month's needs. This current incarnation has been working for several months now.

My weekly spreads change often, but this is working for me right now. I fill in the top section with my tasks and appointments and use the bottom to journal a few lines about the day and write out at least one thing I'm grateful for.

This cleaning tracker is a new layout I'm trying. Jury is still out on this one. I think it might be too messy looking for me. 

So those are my main pages. At the end of each month I take a little time to put together the monthly collection for the next month. I promise it does not take long at all!! Each Sunday afternoon or evening I fill in my tasks and appointments for just that week. Big events I write in the monthly calendar and then put it on the weekly spread when that week rolls around. In between monthly collections, I put whatever I need. Some examples of other pages I do:

Packing lists for vacation
Planning pages/menus for parties
Notes for a book I'm reading or a speaker I hear at MOPS
A list of prayer requests to go over when I have some quiet time
A list of books I want to read and a list of books I've read (look for a blog post soon about a book challenge I'm super excited about doing this year!)
A tracking page for a workout plan that I'm following
Lists of areas to declutter
Big to do lists leading up to events (like Christmas)

Basically anything I need. Any list I need to make or anything I want to keep track of, goes in my bullet journal. Sometimes I make them really pretty with borders and little drawings, but sometimes it's just a list with nothing extra. The act of list making alone helps me calm my brain down when I have a lot going on, adding a little bit of doodling makes it even better! Sometimes after a particularly trying morning, I'll sit down with my journal after putting the kids down for naps/quiet time and I'll make a very random list or just doodle a page with scripture or even song lyrics. A lot of bullet journalers get into hand lettering and that's a goal of mine for this year! Writing and doodling is so soothing to me!

I hope this post has answered some questions (and I am more than happy to answer any more!) and I really hope it has presented bullet journaling as a very helpful and achievable thing to do! I know it seems like a lot. I know it seems like you couldn't possibly devote any time to something like this. I know it might even seem like a total waste! And for some people, it might be! Bullet journaling definitely isn't for everybody! But it is absolutely the right fit for me. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Homeschooling Looks Like...

Sometimes homeschooling looks like little heads bent over papers at the dining room table. Writing, drawing, scribbling.

Sometimes homeschooling looks like reading a history book all snuggled up on the couch.

Sometimes homeschooling looks like bringing the mini globe out during lunch to help answer questions about continents and oceans.

Sometimes homeschooling looks like drawing in nature journals before breakfast, still in pjs, because there was a perfect spider's web just outside the window.

Sometimes homeschooling looks like practicing counting and simple addition with chocolate chips while making cookies.

Sometimes homeschooling looks like taking the books outside because the weather is too nice to stay in.

Sometimes homeschooling looks like a day at the museum.

Sometimes homeschooling looks like doing a lot of chores.

Sometimes homeschooling looks like practicing blending letter sounds using the signs in the produce section in the grocery store.

Sometimes homeschooling looks like frustration and irritation all morning.

Sometimes homeschooling looks like apologizing in the afternoon.

Sometimes homeschooling looks like setting your phone alarm for 15 minutes so you can close your eyes and try to recharge.

Sometimes homeschooling looks like questioning everything.

Sometimes homeschooling looks like worrying that you're failing them.

Sometimes homeschooling looks like throwing out a curriculum in the middle of the year and trying something different.

Sometimes homeschooling looks like giving up after breakfast and watching movies in your pajamas instead.

Sometimes homeschooling looks like saying, "No." to the field trips and get togethers so you can spend a few days at home with a little structure and sit down work.

Sometimes homeschooling looks like saying, "Yes!" to the field trips and get togethers and remembering that sit down work isn't the only way to learn.

Sometimes homeschooling looks like begging God for patience.

Sometimes homeschooling looks like asking God if you've made a mistake.

Sometimes homeschooling looks like praising God for this opportunity.

Sometimes homeschooling looks like realizing that the beauty of the whole thing is knowing that it can and will look different almost every single day.