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Simplicity

Simplicity… I’ve been thinking a lot about living simply, in the past year or so. It seems to me that we have too many things… things that have to be taken care of, cleaned, organized, and stored. And so, I’ve been using some of my free time this summer to go through our things, organizing closets, and (trying!) to be ruthless in getting rid of stuff. I’ve never really been a collector, and yet, with five kids, collections just seem to happen.

As I’ve watched world news over the past few weeks, worrying about what is happening in Somalia, it really hit home to me again that many people in the world don’t have the luxury of thinking about living simply. There are so many people whose only goal right now is simply living. I think about the refugees who are literally starving and needing clean water, and I wonder what we can do. We can send money, but really, it’s just a drop in the bucket.

And so, I am simplifying, but with the realization that our our life still would seem the ultimate in luxury to so many people around the world. We just returned from camping, and even the trailer that we use for weekends away is far more luxurious than some of the homes that people live in.

I’m trying to teach my kids that simpler is better. That giving is better than getting. That we need far less than we want. But at the same time… I’m realizing that it really is a luxury to even have to teach our kids to differentiate between needs and wants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Spring break is coming to an end… so sad. Spring break really has to be one of my favourite holidays.

We get rain in the winter. Lots of rain. Days and days of rain. January and February can be really dull, and homeschooling can have its slow moments. Moments when you feel you’re really not creative at all – and you really don’t feel like getting up and cracking the books anymore than the kids do. And you really just want to curl up in bed when the alarm goes off at six o’clock instead of getting up for your morning walk….

And then spring break comes. And yes, the rain doesn’t miraculously disappear, but there are sunny days. And those days are longer. And the trees outside your front window are starting to blossom. And you feel like getting things done.

Truthfully I had a very long to do list that I was going to tackle spring break. Very long. And honestly, I really didn’t get many things done on it. At all. (I did, however, clean off my office desk. I really was planning to have it stay that way too – for at least more than a couple of hours. However… the best laid plans, and all that…)

Here’s what I did do, though. I went hiking with my family.  We went across a suspension bridge, and hiked down to the bottom. We splashed around in the river, and managed to come home with a couple of soaked feet. We went to the ocean together with our family. We checked out the starfishes clinging to the pier, listened to the barnacles on the seashore (they really do make noise!) and turned over rocks and found tiny little crabs. We wrote messages in the wet sand. We had ice cream at one of the little shops on the beach. (As a side note: you know you have a big family when the grandfatherly man ringing up your ice cream tells you the total and then says, “Ouch.  That hurts, doesn’t it?!”) We introduced our kids to sushi.  My girls and I went Value Village shopping. Cute clothes, without breaking the bank. My kind of shopping!

And all those things were so much better than my original plans. My to do list can wait. Spring break was fun, and life is good.

So next week, reality is going to set in. I’m going to have to get up at the crack of dawn (sort of) for my walks. My days will feel like a whirlwind again as I teach, keep my house clean, make meals, do laundry, work…

But I’m ready for it. I really didn’t get the planning done that I thought I would, but that’s okay. Learning will happen and we’ll all be ready to go again. We may even be able to do some schooling outdoors in the sunshine. Really, does it get any better than that?

Life has gotten very busy around here the last while. My kids have felt like I’ve been living in my office.  And to be honest, I’ve felt that way some days too. But the good news is, it’s for a short time – and I’m  getting to the end. In my job, I have busy times, and slower times… and this happens to be a busy time.

I love my job. I really love my job. I am a curriculum consultant and support teacher for other homeschool families. So not only do I get to homeschool my own kids, I get  to work with other families who are travelling down this same path. How great is that?!  I get to work from home. I get to spend time with my kids. I get to spend time with other homeschooling moms talking about homeschooling.  But one of the greatest benefits is that I get to see so many different styles of homeschooling, and I get to see lots of great ideas in action. There really are  many different ways of homeschooling, and it is fun to see what other people are doing.  March is one of the busy times, when  I do home visits, look at portfolios, and write report cards, but I’m almost done them now – and I’ve got some great new ideas!

What else has kept me busy? After being inspired by Moneysavingmom, I decided to really get an idea of where my  grocery money was going, decided to work on using coupons more effectively, and created a price list of all the best prices I’ve found for items in my area. I never thought I’d say this, but it’s been fun! I always thought I was careful with my grocery money,  but I’ve been able to shave a significant amount off my monthly bill. It’s been a great contribution to our budget too.

We’ve also had an international student from Japan living with us for the last couple of weeks. The kids have really enjoyed it, and it’s been fun for them to learn a bit more about Japan. And  I’m quite sure we got the best student  – he’s so eager to learn about Canada, so polite, and so friendly… and so interested in hockey! That of course makes him a hit with my boys! They’ve had fun introducing him to road hockey, watching the Canucks together, playing video hockey…  It’s been interesting for me as well… Besides learning about Japan, I’ve learned: fifteen year old Japanese boys are the same as Canadian boys; they eat a lot! Also, driving back and forth to school across town each day takes a lot of time (making me appreciate that my kids are home schooled). And, I learned I’m not such a big fan of making lunches! Really though, it has been a neat experience. My kids have been learning about other cultures around the world this year, but nothing beats seeing someone else’s culture up close and personal.

Next week we’re taking a week (mostly) off school. I’m really looking forward to getting organized for the last term of the year, and I’m also planning to spend some time organizing and decluttering at least a few rooms in my house. I am a big fan of living simply – but somehow with five kids, even living simply takes time and effort! In between, I’m hoping to be able to get outdoors with my kids, and just enjoy being a mom. Here’s hoping for some sunny days!

We began homeschooling 4 years ago… We knew very little about homeschooling, and only a few homeschoolers.  Although we thought homeschooling was a great option, we didn’t consider it for our family.  But when our 2nd daughter was part way through grade four, we decided to take her home.  I had been spending a lot of time at night helping her with homework.  And when there were tests, I often needed to make sure that the work she was studying was actually completed.  She was in a noisy class, and had difficulty paying attention and getting her work done.  I was sure that I could quite easily get done everything she was doing in school in a couple of hours…

This decision we made when she was in grade four was a long time coming.  She didn’t like school from the beginning.  When she started grade three, I would drop her off crying.  One day as I was driving out of the parking lot, I felt a pounding on our vehicle – and there she was at the back running after me.  I wasn’t sure what to do. There’s nothing harder for  a mom than seeing your child in distress, so we did think about homeschooling. After a week or so though, she seemed to have resigned herself to going to school and we continued with it.  Although she still didn’t enjoy school, she was okay when we dropped her off, and she enjoyed the time with her friends.  So at the end of the year, we decided to enrol her  for grade four.  Again, she disliked school, and seemed to have difficulty working in a classroom situation, so we finally made the decision to take her home, and  began homeschooling.

I  have a tough time with change; it’s hard for me.  I like having a routine that I can count on, and I don’t like unknowns. But we really felt this was the best option. We said we would homeschool for the rest of the year, and that was as far into the future as we looked.

I still remember that first morning of homeschooling.  I dropped three of my children off at school, and returned home with a grade four student and a toddler.  I wondered if I had made the right choice.  But we sat down at the kitchen table and worked together, and that became my new routine.

I quickly found out that homeschooling really is a lifestyle.  It isn’t something that you can “do” for a few hours in the morning, and then go on with your regular routine. Homeschooling becomes your regular routine, and all the other parts of your life need to be fit in around it.

During that half year, I read everything that I could get my hands on about homeschooling. If someone mentioned a type of curriculum or learning style, I looked it up.  And through the process of homeschooling, I began to see so many more benefits to it, besides the academic ones that had first led us to this path.

So that fall, we decided to homeschool all of our children.  Once again, I was scared.  Was I making the right choice?  Would my kids make friends?  Would they learn what they needed to?

Looking back, four years down the road, I can answer “yes” to all of those questions. Homeschooling is a busy lifestyle.  Often I feel like I’m pulled in a dozen different directions, between kids who need help, laundry that’s piling up, housework that needs to be done, and meals that need to be made. Despite all this, I’m very happy with the choice I’ve made.  I’ve often thought that no matter what I choose, I’m going to be busy with something. And what better to be busy with?  I get to spend the best part of each day with my kids.  I get to be the one who has the satisfaction of teaching them to read.  I get to be the one they come to with their big questions – questions I don’t even always have the answers to.  And I get to share my life with them, and my faith.

There are a lot of benefits to homeschooling.  Academically, nothing quite beats working one on one with your kids. Sure, when you have five kids like we have, (or even if you don’t!) as a mom you really feel pulled in a lot of directions. And you wonder if you are doing enough.  You hear about some other homeschool family who seems to do everything, and you compare. As a parent you are taking a lot of responsibility for your kids education.  And there is no one else that you can pass the buck too – you are the teacher.

But is it worth it?  Absolutely.  There are days when you wonder how you can possibly get it all done.  And then you realize that you absolutely cannot, and that’s okay.  It isn’t easy, but nothing worth doing is.

If I’ve done my job well, I’ve ignited a passion for learning.  I’ve introduced them to some great authors and books.  I’ve spent quality time learning with them each day. And most importantly, I’ve taught them about God, his plan for their lives, and showed them that walking the path that God gives us is not always easy, but is so worth it.

God is Good

Our church is doing a six week series on “Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows”. The first week was called “God is Good”. The pastor talked about why we say that, when there are so many bad things that happen in the world all the time. If God is good, why do bad things happen to good people?

Thinking about this has made me look back at one of the hardest things I’ve had to face in my life. When I was in my early twenties, my mom was killed in a car accident. The other driver was drunk…

My husband and I had been married for just over a year, and my parents had recently moved, so they were living quite close to us. Life was good. We were looking forward to having them nearer, and since we were thinking about starting a family, I was thrilled that my mom would be close by.

The night of the accident was a cold and rainy night in December. My husband and I had just come home from a movie, to find that someone had been at our door, trying to get in touch with us. Since the intercom had gone through the phone line, even though they didn’t leave a message, we could hear them talking. It sounded like the police, and they were talking about going to my sister’s house next.

I won’t ever forget the cold hard hollow feeling that I had in the pit of my stomach. We phoned the police station, and they told us that my parents had been in a car accident, and that we should go to the hospital. “Your dad is waiting for you there,” they said.

That hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach got worse. Why had they only mentioned my dad? Where was my mom then?  I phoned the hospital, and got  the same news. I asked, “What about my mom? Where is she?”

There was a pause on the other end of the phone. “Didn’t they tell you?”  And then came the news I had been dreading, ever since I had heard the police talking outside my door. My parents had been in a serious car accident, and my mom had died at the scene.

Suddenly, I felt the ground give way beneath me. Everything I had thought up to then seemed less sure. All my planning and hopes were gone. It was indescribably painful.

We drove as quickly as we could to the hospital. The weather matched the news and our emotions. The rain was pouring down in sheets, and the wind was gusting. We knew what had happened, and yet it didn’t seem real… couldn’t be real. Around us, homes were lit up with Christmas lights, and that seemed so wrong. How could people be happy and celebrating Christmas, when my mom had just died?

At the hospital, we found my dad and younger brother. Our hearts ached for our loss, but even more so for theirs. How could they go on without my mom?  My mom was the one who knit the family together. My dad didn’t know how to cook, do laundry… all of those practical, day to day things he’d never had to worry about. He had also been quite seriously hurt in the accident, and would have to remain in the hospital for a few weeks.

We stayed at the hospital for quite a while; we didn’t want to leave my dad. Eventually though, we knew we’d have to leave. Someone had to go home with my brother, there was no one else to take care of him. At the same time though, we didn’t feel that we could leave my dad alone. It was just too much, to have him face that pain alone.

So, it was decided. My husband and siblings went home with my brother, while I stayed at the hospital with my dad. Watching them walk out the door was so difficult. I just wanted to be with them, to have my husband there with me, but I knew my dad needed me at that moment.

That night was one of the longest of my life. My dad was in a lot of pain, both physically and emotionally. It was so tough to be there, and I couldn’t imagine how my dad was going to go on. He and my mom had been such a team.

Throughout that night, though, in the midst of that darkness, I felt the presence of God. My husband wasn’t there at that moment to be with me, but I knew God was. He brought a song into my heart. It was a song that I had learned as a child for memory work in grade one, and I don’t think I had sung it for years. But at that moment, it kept going through my mind.

Abide with me/ Fast falls the eventide/ The darkness deepens/ Lord with me abide/ When other helpers/ Fail and comforts flee/ Help of the helpless/ Lord abide with me.

Later that week, we met with the minister of the church where my parents had just started attending. It was a new church, and the songs they sang there were unfamilar to our family. Knowing this, the pastor tried to suggest songs that came from our tradition. I couldn’t believe it when the one he suggested was “Abide with Me”.

God really was there. And He was good. Despite the bad that had happened, I knew that he was a good God.

Feeling God’s presence didn’t stop the hurt. It didn’t stop the dark dark night that we went through over the next year. I wanted my mom back here with us. I wanted my kids who weren’t born yet to know her; I wanted her to be part of their lives. At the same time, though, God’s presence brought peace. I knew that my Mom was with her Heavenly Father.

God  was there through that time, and He walked with us through our pain. He was there in the countless people who knew the right thing to say – or not to say. He was there in the hugs and tears and meals that people brought.

God has been faithful. He later brought a new wife into my dad’s life, someone who had also lost a spouse suddenly, at a young age. She didn’t replace my mom, or stop us from missing her, but she brought happiness back into my dad (and brother’s) lives, and has been a blessing in our lives as well.

I still miss my mom. With each baby that I had, I wanted my mom to be there. I wanted to ask her all those questions a new mom has. I miss her on her birthday, and on holidays like Mothers Day. I wish that I could have had one last conversation with her. But I also know that I will see her again someday. And she will meet my children.

Life isn’t always easy; God never promised that. But he did promise to be with us. He is our Heavenly Father, and He is a good God.

Smartie Math

 

In our family, we try to work on math every day.  Over the years, we’ve used the Saxon Math Program, and I really like the way it spirals, builds on previous knowledge little by little, and gives continued practice with previous skills.  I’ve found that it’s worked great with my kids.

Sometimes, though, we like to leave the workbooks and texts, and play games or do some hands on math. As all of my boys were working on graphing in their math books, I decided it would be fun to do some real life graphing.  We decided that we would use smarties for our graph.  (Nothing makes kids want to start school in the morning more than doing math with smarties!)  Fun, educational… and edible!  A great combination!

First, we had the kids look at the smartie box, and guess how many smarties were in it.  Next, they emptied out the box, looked at what they saw, and estimated how many there were.  After that, they sorted the smarties by colour.  We found out that no one had the same amounts of any colour, and that not everyone had the same amount of smarties in their box.  That was a surprise!

Although this activity is very suited for primary students, when you pull out smarties, everyone wants to participate!  So, we did this activity on a few levels.  My youngest son sorted out his smarties by colour, and then coloured in a pre made graph.  My middle son took the information from the pre made graph, and then made his own bar graph, with the bars facing the other way.  This gave him practice with labelling and naming a graph as well as planning out the size and scale of the graph.  My two oldest took the information, and displayed it in a circle graph.

After sorting by colour, they counted up how many they had of each colour, and proceeded to fill in their graphs. For my youngest two, colouring in and making a new bar graph was easy; they’ve had quite a bit of practice with graphing.  The older two had to figure out how many degrees each smartie was worth in a circle graph, and then multiply that number by the number they had of each colour.  The tricky part with that was making sure that they measured accurately, or the last section wouldn’t be the right size.

We had a great time doing smartie math – and it made me want to think of more fun activities to incorporate into our math learning.  If you’d like to try this activity with your family, you can download the graphing form for free from my Teachers Pay Teachers store. 

Do you have any fun math activities or games that you’ve used?  If you do, please link to them in the comments box; I’d love to hear them. Enjoy your schooling!

 


Today my daughter and I uploaded a bunch of family photos to the computer from when I was a kid.  We had fun looking through them, and I had fun sharing some of my stories with her.  I love this picture of me following my mom down the railroad track; it makes me think of simpler days and times.  We lived in a small town when I grew up, and as kids we could walk or bike to most any place we wanted.  You just don’t do that as quickly anymore.

But as I looked through the pictures, it got me thinking about how much easier taking and sharing pictures is today.  These pictures were originally all slides, which my sister spent many hours scanning onto a disk. We uploaded that disk onto the computer, and there they were.

When we originally viewed those pictures with my family, my dad would get out the screen and the slide projector, and we would all sit down to look at the family photos together.  There was no fast forwarding through ones that you weren’t interested in – and you couldn’t pull them out and take a quick look at them! Today, we sat down together in front of the computer and quickly browsed through the photos. If we want to look at them again, they’re right there. Now, I know not everyone took slides like our family. But still, taking pictures was much more of a process.  I love this picture, which was taken outside our house on a snowy evening.  It’s such a great picture – and my dad couldn’t quickly check if it looked good or edit it on the computer.

Today we take hundreds of pictures of one event, and many pictures of each pose – we can delete whatever doesn’t work out.  Before, we might have taken one (or maybe a couple) of pictures.  And if someone happened to look away, or start to walk out of the picture – oh well.  You wouldn’t even find out what the pictures looked like for a few months, until you had a roll filled up and the pictures developed.

Still, there were some great pictures.  Here’s one of our family car on a snowy road with our hand prints on the back window.   My dad loved to take pictures of scenery, and most years there were pictures of a big snow storm.  It makes me a bit nostalgic – we don’t get much snow where we live, and I remember having lots of fun as a kid in the snow. Of course, I also delivered papers first thing in the morning on some bitterly cold days, but somehow, now, I seem to mostly remember the positives.  :)

This is a picture of us visiting Lake Huron and watching the sunset.  I remember packing up and going to the beach after my dad was home from work.  He was the official photographer, so he wasn’t actually in many of the shots.

I love the story those pictures tell, and I’m glad I can share those memories with my kids. I’m also glad that we can now upload and edit pictures right on our computer.  Otherwise, these pictures would still be sitting in a slide carousel, gathering dust in my dad’s basement.  :)