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Gather ‘Round: North America Unit

It’s been awhile since I blogged. I’m no longer on Instagram, so when I write here, I would like to write meaningful, helpful, and encouraging posts. We are a Gather ‘Round family, and because this curriculum has been such a blessing to us as a family, I like to share how I plan or how we have done a particular unit.

You can see why we love Gather ‘Round Homeschool here, and how I planned our Oceans Unit here. We have completed these units, too (although I haven’t written about them as yet): Africa, Earth Science, and Europe. It will take us two years to complete Year 1 (we started in March 2020), which is why we love it – it is so flexible and adaptable to each family.

We have just finished Space, which we all loved. I’m looking forward to writing a review soon. My posts on Gather ‘Round on Pinterest are quite popular, which I just love – I want other families to thrive with this curriculum, too!

Adaptations for our Family

My children are 8 and almost 7, and we generally do 2-3 units a week. This means that it takes us 6-8 weeks to complete a whole unit. We take our time, enjoy the ride, and learn from a state of rest. I think this is why my son – who is very resistent to academics – loves it, we’re not in a hurry to check boxes and finish.

As I have looked through the Teacher’s Guide for North America, I have noticed that there is A LOT of information and topics to go through. I know that this will overwhelm both the children and I. Therefore, I am going to do what I did with the other two Connecting Continents units that we have done: focus on the animals and cultural interests. Always remember that curriculum is a tool, and you must make it work for you. I often summarise when there is a lot of information, or if the subject is quite scientific etc. I also sometimes don’t do all the activities in the workbook if I think they are not neccesary, or if I know that it’s just not the kind of day to push bookwork.

Read Alouds

This unit I am going to do a lot more reading of books that go along with theme and topics, more so than previous units. There are just so many good books that are written about history and culture from North America! I haven’t curated an exclusive list, but these are the main books I am wanting to read over the next few months with the children:

  • Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims by Clyde Robert Bulla
  • Riding the Pony Express by Clyde Robert Bulla
  • My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
  • The Secret Valley by Clyde Robert Bulla
  • The Matchlock Gun by Walter Edmonds
  • Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

Literature is the number one top priority in our homeschool. It shapes, challenges, grows, leads, and helps our children walk in another person’s shoes. It’s a wonderful way to bring history alive, to help children live in another culture, and to understand how different people think and why they do/did things. Living picture books are another way to bring our unit alive, so we also have a good collection for the children to read in their own time and volition. These picture books are set face up in our living room to create interest.

Extras

Because we live in New Zealand, we can’t do many real life experiences or adventures! So this time I am going to add in cooking to help bring our unit alive in our home. I have researched some interesting meals to make (like this Jamaican Chicken). We also have a YouTube list that I have collated with videos that go along with each lesson. You can find that here. In all of our units, the videos have helped the children so much – especially with science or ideas that I find difficult to explain.

Routine

We always start with our read alouds in the living room, which last for about 30 minutes. I then read through my Teacher’s Guide, sometimes reading all of it or paraphrasing when needed. After this we watch the videos that I have picked to enhance the lesson, and from there, we move to the school room (usually 20-30 minutes with the lesson reading). At the table, we work on our book work for 30-40 minutes. And that is our typical Gather ‘Round morning!

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Homeschool Update: Term 1, 2021

We are in the last few weeks of our first term of schooling this year here in New Zealand. With our unschooling history, this may be one of our consistent terms in our four years of homeschooling! For where we are right now in our family, this feels really good and really right. (I explained here why we have moved away from unschooling.) I thought that I would share an update with you in how our term has gone, a few things we have changed, and other thoughts since I wrote about my hopes for our homeschool year.

Changes

After the first week of the year, I quickly relaxed. I don’t know why, but I often start quite intense – which, of course, never works for anyone! I had thought about doing more one-on-one reading with each child, and that didn’t work. Nor did Picture Study (it never does, as beautiful as it seems). That first weekend, I knew it was minimal, back-to-basics for us. I’m learning, again and again, if something is working – and working really well – don’t try and change anything!

Memory Work is still something we are working on, but not in an intense Classical style. I have one thing I want us to memorise (or at least have familiar in our minds) every season. For example, it is now Autumn here, and we are learning The Apostles’ Creed. We just read it together one or two times a week, but over three months, that’s a good-many times going over it. We also read aloud Charlotte Mason’s full “I Am, I Can, I Ought, I Will” the same number of times a week, but we will have that all year.

Another change is that Tim is doing devotions several mornings a week with the children. For ten-fifteen minutes, they go through The Ology together. The children love finding their own passages to read, and I love hearing their young voices reading precious Scripture. We didn’t plan to do this, but during a week away on a family holiday, Tim and I decided that we wanted to make that a morning staple. I am so thankful we did. We can see fruit already in their hearts, and I think the children love having something with Daddy.

What Still is Awesome

Gather ‘Round Homeschool. Seriously, my children just love it – a year in. We’ve finished Oceans this term, and we’re a few weeks into Space. When there are days that we don’t do GR, they complain. When we return to it, they cheer. I am so, so thankful for Rebekah and Gather ‘Round Homeschool.

Links to more here:

Why We Love Gather ‘Round Homeschool

How I’m Planning the Oceans Unit (for Gather ‘Round Homeschool)

Our Daily Routine

It took a few weeks to figure out what would flow best. I have learned over the last year that if the children have too much free time on their hands, they tend to get scrappy, less inclined to be helpful, and can develop attitudes. This was a big issue at the latter part of last year and one of the reasons why I started burning out. Therefore, I saw the wisdom in making sure we are occupied for a good part of the day – in fact, almost as much as a typical public school day.

Before you think we are doing school that long – yeah, no way! Rather, it is me making sure that the children know how our day is going to go, have something planned in the next block of time, and spreading out particular subjects so that a good five hours of our day is intentionally filled up. So far, this has been a big blessing for us. I used to see other homeschool routines of families and wonder how they could do this – but now I see, and it is a game-changer!

7am: Usually, we are all up. The children are playing, Tim and I are doing our separate time with the Lord.

8am – 9am: Breakfast + Morning Chores (make bed, get dressed, feed pets, clear dishes).

9am: Devotions with Dad.

9.30am: Main Learning Session (Read Alouds, Gather ‘Round readings + workbooks).

11-11.30am: Finish formal lessons. I tidy up, the children have free play.

12pm: Lunch.

12.30-1.30pm: Rest Hour.

2-5pm: Free play/Outing/Household work

5-6pm: Dinner

Routine, But…

This is how our days typically flow. This year I have made a strong intention to keep our mornings free of commitments or outings. If we have friends over, or have an activity planned, it is in the afternoon (unless it is a planned one-off class for our homeschool group).

Being this intentional with our days has been so transformative for our days. The understanding that our days have a trusted rhythm and flow has really helped the children enjoy our learning times in the morning. Their free time in the afternoon becomes more precious. And that is such a good lesson for life in itself: rest is truly rest when we have worked well. This was something in our unschooling adventures that we were lacking, and the blessing of having structured days has been a surprising fruit this year.

But, before you think that everything is ‘perfect’ each day – which is something we seem to assume with social media these days – there is definitely no perfection here! Hyperactivity, bad sleep, over-silliness, grumpiness, bad attitudes, disobedience – everyday we homeschool with one (or all) of these issues. And, much of the time, I am the problem!

Sometimes, too, I decide that we are going to have a rest with our Gather ‘Round curriculum and do something different. This week, for example, I felt the need to focus on Math and English. So on Monday and Wednesday, for 20mins with each child, we are doing Math together; Tuesday and Thursday, English respectively. And, do you know what? We might continue this for the next few weeks! That, my friends, is the beauty of homeschooling – complete autonomy and flexibility over what works best right now in our family.

Learning From Love, Our Mainstay

Also, just because we don’t properly unschool anymore doesn’t mean that the principles that led me to it have been forgotten. If one or two hours of formal learning happens each day, the rest of the day is full of the children following their loves, their passions, their interests. I fully and completely believe in interest-led/delight-directed learning. It is the mainstay of our days and the heart of this homeschool mother for her children.

Growing up this way will direct them to where God leads them. I believe fully that the Holy Spirit is working in the children every day, leading them to books, mulling over ideas and problems, leading their limbs to jump and run, filling their hearts with passions… And, at the same time, I also believe the Holy Spirit leads them in our daily disciplines of ‘school’ – tools and skills they need to develop. I’ve learned not to throw the baby out with the interest-led-bathwater (that some unschoolers can do)!

So that is my update on our first Term of 2021. I am so thankful for how it is going so far, and I am fully convinced it is the grace of God and the intercessory prayers of those who love us and believe in us homeschooling our children. My heart is deeply thankful to God for His direction and guidance, His comfort when I wanted to give up, and the joy He has returned to my heart as this year steadily progresses. And I look forward to our next update!

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My Homeschool Hopes for 2021

At the end of 2020, we almost gave up homeschooling. It had been a rough year and the final few months had been just hard. Drained, constant friction, and weariness painted our days. I had lost my vision, I felt defeated by my son’s behaviour and didn’t know how to work with him. We spent a month away visiting family for Christmas. In that month we made a lot of progress with issues, as well as having much needed rest. Most importantly, the Lord gave me comfort, direction, and encouragement as I have sought Him for this year of home education.

At my lowest, as I was preparing for the year, I thought inwardly, “I’m not sure I can do this.” My heart felt faint and my knees trembled. But, oh how good God is. He answered my prayers and gave me clear words of hope and admonition.

“Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths of your feet, and be steadfast in all your ways.” ~ Proverbs 4:25-26

This is the way, keep walking in it. In my heart, I have always known not to give up and that sending the children to school is not the answer for us. But weariness, trials, and family dynamics can really get you down. And, as my mother reminded me helpfully (as I tend to forget), if this is the path that God wants us on, the enemy will do anything he can to get us off it.

“Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. ‘Make level paths for your feet,’ so that the lame will not be disabled, but rather healed.” ~ Hebrews 12:12-13

Be obedient, be faithful, trust the Lord’s hand of healing on this path (for us all). God is so very good, and faithful to lift us up when we need it. He never lets us down, and is with us to the end of the age. I continued, therefore, to forge ahead with planning and preparing our home for a new year. In fact, for the first time ever, we have our very own schoolroom! It feels good to have everything all in one room, rather than spread out throughout the house, creating clutter.

Time Plans

Through careful thought and deliberation about where we are at and what I think will benefit the children (and myself), we are going to do a 4-day school schedule, in the Sabbath schooling style (that is, 6 weeks schooling, 1 week off). We will have three blocks and then a two week holiday in July, with three more blocks before Christmas.

Bringing in a Biblical mentality of work and rest to our homeschool makes sense to me. And I know that this will keep us from burn out, knowing we have a time to breathe after a good chunk of learning. I decided on a 4-day schedule because my children are still young – 6.5 and almost 8 – and we have homeschool co-op on the Friday afternoon. We also have a home to manage, dogs to walk, libraries to visit, and friends to see. It’s a full life during the week (and winter will have rugby for Josiah thrown in).

Character Plans

I have been reading through Charlotte Mason’s Toward a Philosophy of Education which has been something the Lord has been using to confirm in me the two main things I want to focus on this year with the children – ideas and good habits.

Both ideas and habits are crucial to the formation of a child’s character and I see that so clearly now in our children, but especially our boy. I have written about our move from unschooling-style to a more structured way of homeschooling here, so I won’t go into depth here. But, suffice to say, we have been reaping the consequences of not working on habits and helping the children rise up to higher ideas.

Through regular schooling, help around the home, and being exposed to rich literature, my prayer for the children that they will grow abundently in character this year and that peace will be a staple of our home because of the work Christ is doing in all of us.

We so loved Heidi last year.

Curriculum Plans

There are four main focuses I have for our homeschool this year:

  1. Read Alouds: We read about six chapter books last year which is the most we have ever read together. Our favourite, hands down, was Heidi. I was impressed that my children listened through such a big book, and that I committed to reading it over 5-6 weeks! This year I would love us to read more than ten chapter books. The ones I definitely want to read to them are:
    • Treasures in the Snow
    • The Trumpet and the Swan
    • The Railway Children
    • The Secret Garden
    • The One Hundred and One Dalmations
    • and The Animals of Farthing Wood.

  1. Math: Last year, math took a back burner, especially for our son. He did lots of natural learning in math, especially through his passion with rugby (learning all the statistics, years, players, goal counts of different games etc.) which throughly pleased and impressed me, but this year we definitely need to get into some structured, regular mathematics. We are doing Life of Fred and the worksheets from M.E.P. For our daughter, we are continuing through Horizons, but I have brought her up to Grade 1 even though we didn’t finished K.

  1. Memory Work: This was a special request of my husband – and I listen to that wise man! We want them to learn some of the ‘classic’ scriptures that are foundational to Christian life and history. I have also added a few poems in there, and some tongue twisters (both our children are lazy speakers, and our son has a lisp).

  1. ‘Gather Round Homeschool: This curriculum is just such a blessing to us and is definitely what God wants us to continue in. I have reviewed it here and shared how I planned our Oceans unit here. We are working through Year 1 at our own pace, but by the end of the year, I would love to have finished these units:
    • Oceans (we’re 1/4 through it)
    • Space
    • North America
    • Human Body
    • South America

Final Thoughts

From ending last year almost giving up, and starting this year feeling very fragile, I am now in a much better space. I watched this lovely video by Sodbuster Living today and I appreciated her honesty so much.

Homeschooling, friends, is really hard. We have to be honest about that – not just to other people, but to ourselves. The key to continuing in grace and strength is to completely depend on God for the direction and practice of our days, as well as answering this question, “What do I want our homeschool to be like?” We shouldn’t look to anyone else, or let beautifully taken photos shape some homeschool-in-the-clouds for us. We must be realistic, honest, and faithful to God’s calling on our children and who we are as their mother.

So, this is how we are starting 2021. I am hopeful in the Lord, pleased with the relaxed curriculum, satisfied with the ideas and habits principles, and on board 100% with my husband. Despite the last few months, by God’s grace, I am starting this homeschool year with a restful spirit.

How about your plans and hopes for 2021?

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Only Settle For Peace in Your Homeschool.

I am learning, in this motherhood and home education journey, that there is no one ‘right way’. It is tempting, with our sense of responsibility and awe for our role as stewards of God’s children, to keep looking for the ‘best’ – the best books, the best methodology, the best curriculum, the best schedule, the best discipline practice, the best fill-in-the-blanks. Sometimes it almost feels like an obessession, the constant looking and changing things up, fueled by that desire for the best – or by comparison and fear.

We’ve had a hard few weeks here and, though it is in part from developemental leaps in our children (think, big feelings!), I have realised that I have been a big contributor to that tension. Instead of being my children’s mother and faciliator in their learning, over the last months I have become a task master. Unknowingly, I have allowed words from people, images around the net, doubts about how we do things, and the good things that others are doing to create a fire of doubt and fear within me. Worried, dissatisfied, a bit frenetic – I try and make our homeschool something different, even though it’s been working amazingly.

I feel like we’re not Charlotte Mason enough. I feel like we need to do systematic history that the Classicals encourage. I feel like we need a more rigorous schedule. I feel like we need… But when I try and implement such things into our routine, it’s like fitting in a wrong puzzle piece. But I keep trying, and keep pushing, and keep attempting to make what isn’t us, us.

Yet I have not really sought God’s wisdom and will for us, or nailed down details with my husband. And I don’t consult the children because I know what they will say! No, instead, from niggly insecure thoughts and fear, I keep dragging our kids down this path of finding the ‘best’. So the tension builds, and we keep fighting, until there is just no peace in our home. Raised voices, squabbles, tears, frustrations, and clashes. And my relationship with my children, especially my eldest, is fraught and a bit broken, and none of us feel good at all.

Why do I do this? Why do I lift my eyes from the plough and look back? Why do I become like Peter who questions Jesus and His plans for another disciple, to which Jesus replies, “What is that to you? You follow me” (John 21:22).

In one of my favourite homeschooling books, A Little Way Homeschooling (which is about Catholic unschooling, though I am Protestant), Suzie Andres says:

“Whatever it is [how you homeschool, what curriculum you use], you will recognize it by the peace it brings to you and your children. Do not settle for anything less.”

Peace. It is very clear to me what brings peace to our homeschool and what doesn’t. When we do what works for us, there is joy, and fruit, and co-operation, and hope. Being together is just the best. Even on the hard days, those kind of days are just blips. Peace, on the whole, still reigns.

Yet, sometimes I become crazy, and I am afraid of peace. It feels too easy. And, if it is easy, something must be wrong. I therefore start my comparison and looking around, thinking that I am doing something wrong, because things feel right. But, what foolish thinking! Why does everything have to be hard, to be right?

So, after another one of my crazy times and injection of chaos into our home, I’m raising my hands and repenting once again of my folly. God knows what is good and right for us and I need to keep my eyes on Him, and nothing else. Then, that perfect peace we get when our eyes are fixed on Him, returns and all is right again in our home.

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How I’m Planning the Oceans Unit (for Gather ‘Round Homeschool)

We are in the last few lessons of our Europe unit from Gather ‘Round Homeschool. (We have also completed Africa and Earth Science.) Whenever we are approaching the end of a unit, I print out what I need for our next unit and begin fleshing out how I feel the unit will work best for us.

I always love seeing how other mother’s plan for their homeschool, so I thought I would share and maybe encourage or help another GRH Mama!

(Check out my last post if you want to know why we love Gather ‘Round Homeschool and how, in general, I make it work for our family.)

Step One: Gather Topics

After printing the Teacher’s Guide and the two notebook levels for the children (both are on Early Elementary for Oceans), I have a good look through all the lessons. There are so many topics that are covered in the unit, and I like to have a good idea about what we are diving into.

When planning, you need to look at both the lesson in the Teacher’s Guide as well as the Student notebook. Topics from the Teacher’s Guide are fleshed out in the notebooks but extra topics can be added the Student notebook.

For example, in the Teacher’s Guide for Lesson #1: Creatures of the Deep, we cover general ocean facts, hydrothermal vents, and six deep sea fish (like the Fangtooth Fish and the Stargazer Fish). But, also in the Student notebook, we look at ocean water pressure (with an experiment) and ocean pollution.

When I have gone through all twenty lessons and have compared all the topics, I create a Word document to have a clear visual plan for the unit. I used to just plan week-by-week, but now I prefer to have the whole unit ready to just open up on a Sunday evening to see what is coming up in the next week.

In the Word document, I make a table with three columns: Lesson, Topics, Read/Watch. With the topics I have gathered, I write them in the middle column for easy reference.

Step Two: Gather Resources

After that, I like to gather living books and videos to watch for the different lessons. I write these in the third column of my Word document.

I shop our shelves for books that are relevent for us, and then I go on our local library and find books to put on hold the week before we start that topic. This is probably my favourite part of the planning process! I just love books, and so do the children, and this is such a beautiful way to richen and diversify what we are learning.

Once books are done, I then puruse YouTube for interesting videos to watch. For Oceans, there are a lot of Wild Kratt videos, as well as National Geographic. You can find my Gather ‘Round playlist here.

If we have anything else on hand, such as puzzles or games, I add those in too. And, if there are any real life experiences that we can do that are cost-efficient, then I plan that in, also.

Step Three: Gather the Kids

Once the plans are ready to go, the last part is to work the plan!

Finding Gather ‘Round Homeschool and making that investment for Year 1 has been such a blessing. My son, who has always been so resistent to ‘school’ said to me today, “I am loving school at the moment, Mum.” Are there any other better words to hear for a homeschool mama?

Don’t get me wrong – our days are hard! Attitudes can be poor, tears shed, patience lost, but God has gifted our family with a curriculum that the children love, that mama loves, and which gives life to our learning days. Even on hard mornings, by the end of our learning time, we’re buzzing from the things we have learned, the connections we’ve made, and ideas that have entered our hearts and changed us.

As I said in my last post, a curriculum is what you make of it. Yet, Gather ‘Round is amazing because it only gets better with how I make it work for our family.

We are so excited to do Oceans!

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Why We Love Gather ‘Round Homeschool

Because we have followed after what delights our children, I was looking around for something that would build upon our 7yo’s passion for Big Cats. I have followed Rebecca from Homeschool On for years and, when I saw that one of the units of her new curriculum – Gather ‘Round Homeschool – was on Africa, I trialed the free sample.

Within a day, I knew it was perfect for us, so I purchased the whole unit.

And then, within a few weeks, I knew that the whole concept and design of the curriculum was perfect for us as well – so I purchased the entire Year 1! We are absolutely sold on this curriculum for the foreseeable future.

If you haven’t heard about GRH, I would love to share about it because it has been the biggest blessing of our homeschool journey so far.

What is Gather ‘Round Homeschool?

GRH was designed by Rebecca Spooner, a homeschooling mother of five from Canada. After years of trialing all sorts of curriculum and styles, she was tired and drained. She felt that she was constantly jumping between children, trying to give them her best, yet feeling like they never accomplished anything, while the house fell by the wayside.

Oneday, God gave her a vision for a homeschool life. She saw the whole family, with all the children at different ages and stages, gathered around learning the same thing – but then the children having their own resources to work on it at their level.

Very quickly, her first unit – North American Birds – was released and, well, the rest was history (and a complete success and whirlwind!). GRH has now become more than a curriculum, it is a whole community. There is an app, Facebook pages, and there has even been an online conference. Amazing!

How Does it Work?

There are ten units for Year 1:

  • North American Birds
  • Asia
  • Space
  • Europe
  • Oceans
  • Africa
  • Earth Science
  • North America
  • Human Body
  • South America

Year 2 has now started being released, as well as the preschool/kindergarten curriculum for learning to read.

As the teacher, you will have your own Teachers Book to teach from. Your children will then have their own workbook to do their activities in after the daily reading. The curriculum can include all of your children. Yes, that is right.

GRH can be a full curriculum for your Preschooler (which will be released soon), Pre-Reader, Early Reader, Early Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, and High School. (Currently, the only subject not included is Math. This will be in the works in the future.)

Gather around your table, or floor, or couch, and enjoy learning together.

How We Gather Round

The best piece of advice I have been given about curriculum is to use it as a tool, and not be used by it. I took that to heart when we started GRH during lockdown, and I think that is why it has been such a success for us.

Firstly, we don’t follow the suggested schedule. We spread the twenty lessons out over six or so weeks, rather than trying to complete it within the suggested four/five weeks. This gives us time – time to enjoy the different lessons, follow rabbit trails, and enjoy ourselves. We don’t feel pressured to rush through each lesson in order to finish the unit “in time”.

Secondly, I don’t always get the children to do everything in their workbooks nor do I always read everything in the teacher’s notebook. Some topics just won’t interest the children, or are not as applicable for us here in New Zealand.

Thirdly, I use GRH as a “spine” for our lessons, but I add other things. I add in Morning Basket, read alouds, extra language arts, as well as math. This curriculum is enrichment for us, and makes our learning fuller rather than being the learning completely.

Lastly, I branch out each lesson with living books and lots of related YouTube videos. This creates variety and helps with the different learning stlyes between the children.

Why We Love It

I love GRH because of how I use it with the children. I feel like it is a peg in our learning life that we keep hanging really interesting things on. And that is why the children love it – the topics are interesting.

Whether the focus is geography, or animals, or science, or one of the new lessons in Year 2 like Artists – the scope and breadth of topics keeps my young children interested and eager to know more. GRH gets children and their love for fascinating subjects, strange places, weird animals, and incredible facts about God’s Creation.

I also love the faith aspect that threds through the lessons – both in copywork and Mission Focus. These often add new trails of conversations and thoughts about theology that are a real blessing to our learning time.

Our Future With GRH

We will end the year with GRH as our main spine for our lessons. Next year, however, I am planning on using the different units as our Nature Study or Geography subjects.

I have always loved Charlotte Mason and her philosophy of education, and now that we are moving into formal learning (see this post where I explain why we are no longer unschooling), I want to slowly implement her principles more and more.

So, for example, when we begin our new year of school in February 2021, we will use the Oceans unit as the basis of our Nature Study lessons. Another term we will use the South America unit for Geography.

Once again, I am using this amazing curriculum to suit our family. And I think this is the heart of Rebekah and her ministry with Gather ‘Round – a curriculum to bless each family, to suit each family.

Some criticisms I have heard about it, I believe, stem from a family not applying the curriculum to their family situation. If we follow another curriculum, or schedule, or philosophy to a “T” without taking into consideration our family dynamics and season of life, then we’re not being wise about what we have or who we are.

Check out Gather ‘Round Homeschool here, see families on the IG hashtag or find more reviews on YouTube.

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Leaving the Quiet Growing Years of Homeschooling + Unschooling

The Term Four school holidays just finished here in New Zealand. We’ve had a busy few weeks of family visiting and my husband preparing for his university exams. With schooling wrapping up within the next few months, it would seem to be an odd time to be starting school (unless you’re in the Northern Hemisphere). But for us, in our family, this first week of Term Four heralds in a fresh start in schooling.

If you have been reading here for a little while, or following me on Instagram for years, you would know that we have – in general – been an unschooling family. That is, even when our children reached school age, we pretty much kept on living the way we had been since they were born: relaxed, following interests, reading lots of books, and spending time in nature. Charlotte Mason calls this “the quiet growing time” of the Early Years.

Charlotte Mason advocated enormous amounts of time outside, reading books, and letting the child grow naturally in their environment, with slow installment of habit training to make “smooth and easy days” for Mother (and her children’s good). Around six years of age, Charlotte believed children were ready for short (ten minute) formal lessons of a wide variety of topics, in the morning time.

Josiah is now seven and a half, whilst Rosalie turned six in July.

Some educational theorists recommend leaving formal schooling even later. Unschooling as an ideology, advocates only introducing formal lessons as the child’s interest bequests. But, as we all know, each family is their own family. We all have wisdom and insight into what is best for each child, regardless of theories, philosophies, and sub-cultures. It could do your head in to try and follow every thought about children and learning, even within your own extended family!

Thankfully, Tim and I are like-minded and open to what needs to happen for our children and their learning and living. Our “quiet growing time” for the last seven years has been so, so amazing. Truly, I have no regrets. Both children have had the freedom to be young children, to be in touch with their child-like wonder longer, and to be able to live a slow life with their mother (and this year, their father, too).

Yet, the time has come for change.

Both are in Middle Childhood, that interesting – yet often, neglected – time of childhood. I read this blog post about Middle Childhood today by The Woodsy Sort, which I so appreciated. These years before adolescence are just as crucial as the Early Years in forming and creating our children’s hearts and habits of hand and mind.

In this way, Tim and I have noticed that, now we are no longer in survival mode with living in a new city, with no family, in a renovation project, the hearts and habits of our children are in need of closer work. So much of this year has been about getting by and adjusting and being flexible to building and worldwide pandemics. However, now that we as parents are no longer barely keeping our heads above water, we are able to breathe and press in to our children and their cultivation again.

Though both children have been learning intently this year – and Rosalie has taught herself to read, and Josiah is now reading chapter books – their growth in character virtues is behind. Self-control, work ethic, and sibling kindness are needing our close attention and work. As Tim and I have talked, we’ve decided that helping the children apply themselves to the daily mental work of school will benefit them greatly.

We have had great success with Gather ‘Round Homeschool this year, especially during lockdown. So we will continue with that as our main curriculum. I will add on Morning Basket (basically, a daily hymn, Scripture reading, poetry, and read aloud). We’ll also alternate Math and Language Arts. And, for the first time in my homeschooling life, I have planned out our entire term. I seriously never thought I would say that! But I am learning that it is good to set goals and work faithfully toward them, rather than seeking perfection and giving up on Day 2 when things fail! The Lord is doing so much character work in me, as we seek to do the work in our children!

So, I am thankful. I am thankful for the flexibility of homeschooling, the ability to assess regularly the needs of our children and the family as a whole, as well as the necessity of being humble before God and those around us, being accountable and transparent. So far, we are one week in, which includes my Mother going back, and adding a puppy to the family! But, instead of throwing plans to the wind because “life got in the way”, I have remained steadfast to the pockets of time I have set out as our learning time. This is a big sign that I am growing, praise God! 🙂

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Homeschooling Should Be a Joy

The more I live this life of homeschooling, the more I believe that home education ought to be a joy. By joy, I mean, delight – that is, a high degree of “gratification or pleasure” (Webster-Dictionary).

Is your home education with your children gratifying? Do you all experience pleasure in your days?

Now, in my belief that home education ought to be a joy, I don’t mean that there is an absence of hard work. I think, for the most part in life, joy is a product of work. We work for thankfulness, we work to see goodness, and we work to appreciate what we have. It is rare for joy to be continually present in our life with no conscious effort on our part. So, those hard days (or weeks, or months, or years) with our children does not negate the opportunity for our homeschooling life to be joyful.

Joy, also, is also a fruit of the Spirit. As we abide in Jesus – not just as a mother, but as a family – and we put on joy (and love, and patience etc.), the experience and feelings of delight flow from the Spirit’s cultivation in us. Martin Lloyd-Jones, in his book Spiritual Depression, essentially says that being a miserable Christian is an oxymoron. It must surely be contrary for a Christian family, who deeply believe in Christ and the Gospel, not to be a generally joyful family.

Despite these truths, so many home educating Christian mothers – and their children – are lackluster in joy. Coming together to learn is fraught, tears abound, people drag their feet, and sending children off to school is a genuine consideration. Why does this happen? Certainly, in only three years, I have definitely been there. Our first year was difficult, which is how we ended up in more of an unschooling way of learning. But seasons change, and we are a more delight-directed family now, which to us, is a nice mix of child- and parent-led learning. Yet, I still can succumb to the lack-of-joy state. Here is why I think it is easy for us mother’s to get to that place.

You’ve Lost Your Vision

Why are you home educating? What led you to this lifestyle?

The Lord led us to home education through different ways and for different reasons, but I remember a specific answer to prayer in the Word that was as clear as day what God wanted for us. So, God is the reason why we are homeschooling. And, over time, He has laid in my heart a passion for giving the children a slow, unhurried childhood full of good literature, nature, play, rabbit trails, and family time.

But I have already lost my way at times.

Sometimes, through hard seasons or difficulties with our children, we can lose sight of our end hope for our children. The daily living can block that passion God first placed in our hearts. Comparing our home or our children or our curriculum to another family (whether homeschooling or not) can choke out convictions and cast doubt on our decision to home educate. We need to be careful to keep that flame of vision burning as well as eternity in view when we feel cold.

Prayer, the Word, journaling, and reading good home education books can help you burn brightly again. I always recommend Sally Clarkson for encouragement.

A Method Trumps Your Children

I think this is such a common struggle, at least, that has been my experience. There is a wealth of information and opinions out in the world around homeschooling and learning in general, it can be overwhelming. A particular method (or more!) may really appeal to us and we try to implement (or un-implement) it with our children.

For some reason or other, it all falls to custard. But we keep trying because it’s beautiful, or enriching, or promises success, or makes us as the educator feel like we are doing a good job. Our children, however, are drowning or rebelling or withdrawing, and our relationship with them suffers.

Friends, method of homeschooling actually doesn’t matter. At least, how you follow a method doesn’t matter, especially if you are trying to follow it to the letter of the law. And that is the problem – the method becomes a law. Even unschooling, which promotes freedom, can become a yoke if we lose our sights on our children and what they actually need.

We need to remember that there is no one “right” way to homeschool our children. We need to find what suits us as mothers and what suits our children. Joy will certainly follow if the method is where it needs to be, a method, not a law.

You See Your Children As a Burden

I think all mothers go through periods of time where everything just becomes too much and we begin to view our children as hard, or difficult, or a burden. Parts of their character that used to make us smile now makes us irritated. The noise grates on us. The mess overwhelms us. We feel an increasing feeling of suffocation.

These are all warning signs that something is out of whack. Mother-Friend, you need to run to Jesus and spend some time in prayer, the Word, and a good book that encourages you, refreshes you, convicts you, and helps you get your thinking in the right place. Children, and all that comes with them, are a blessing. If we’ve lost our joy toward our children, it is a sign of sickness within our own hearts.

All these may be blockages to joy in your homeschooling life. Again, a joyful homeschool is not an absence of hard or difficult days or seasons of pain. Joy is something deeper than that.

Joy is a surety, a hope in eternal truths, that bubbles delight, praise, and pleasure in our hearts in this calling, this role, this privilege. And home educating our children is a privilege. It is something we can do with this one life we have with the certainty that we are doing something meaningful and worthy of our time, our energy, our younger years, our bodies, and our hearts.

I’m praying if you have lost your joy, that something in this entry has sparked hope again, and causes you to run to Jesus and seek how He can restore it in you today.

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Don’t Be Afraid to Unschool

This post contains affiliate links.

This post is directed to Christian unschoolers but I hope it will be an encouragement to all who read it.

When the Lord led me to unschooling, I was so afraid. In fact, I was more afraid of this than even homeschooling itself (which had seemed crazy when I had first thought of it).

Unschooling just seemed so…risky. What about math? Did it mean gaming all the time? Did I have any say as a parent? What if…?

The feeling I had, waiting to obey the Lord, was like I was standing on the edge of a bridge, ready to bungee-jump off, and I was absolutely freaking out. Even though I know the rope will keep me safe, it is the fear that is overwhelming and preventing me from taking the plunge, as I stand high above the river and rocks below.

It is fear, isn’t it, that keeps us from willingly follow the Lord.

So, if you are sensing the Lord leading you to unschooling with your children, let me encourage you not to follow fear and be kept back from unschooling with these three points.

1. God has got them.

It was Sally Clarkson and Edith Schaeffer that first helped me realise that my children were not, in fact, mine. Both their books The Mission of Motherhood and What is a Family? respectively, were what confirmed homeschooling as the right direction for us as a family. A huge part of that confirmation was God pressing upon my heart how precious are these children and how much He loves them.

He loves them because they are His. He made them for Himself.

Julie Polanco, in her book Godschooling, also confirmed this by pointing out that God knows their future, not us, and therefore, He knows what they need to know and love as they are growing and learning. So let Him lead their interests, passions, and curiosities.

I can only see this in my own life. As I look back, I can see how God directed me to books, friends, places, movies, and many other things that cultivated interests and passions in my life that direct me to this very day.

We can trust God with our children.

2. You will be a better mother.

Now, I am NOT saying mothers who do not unschool are bad mothers – at all. This post is directed to mothers who, like me, have sensed God leading their children into an unschooling life – but it is scary. Unschooling is not the only way to educate children. I absolutely believe that.

Just like our children, God has got us, as their mothers. He knows what we need to be amazing mothers for the children He has given us.

When I release my fear to God and trust Him with the children’s learning, He opens my eyes so wide to them. Their joy and their love and their interests fill me with love and joy and interest. I really look into my children and enjoy them. I am a free, at rest mother.

God knows that I need this unschooling life just as much as my children because He knows, when I ask him, “Lord, please help me love my children” this is His answer to me.

3. He is trustworthy.

It really all comes back down to that. It’s simple. Trust God.

We hate being so finite – we want to know what the future holds for our children. If we knew, we could let go and not stress so much.

We also hear the criticisms of others – well-meaning, or not – and we doubt. Even if we have had clear guidance from God in Scripture that this is the way to go, as well as from those we trust, we still doubt. It’s like the serpent in the Garden, “Did God really say?”

But, God promises to give us wisdom and guidance and understanding if we ask Him. He is the only one who does know the future. We can rest in His providence.

And, we can trust Him that, as we go along the unschooling journey, if He wants to change our direction to something more formal or traditional, He will lead us. We just have to keep in-step with the Spirit, listen, and obey.

So…

…if He has been leading you to this way of education, trust God with your children. And, just do it – unschool. You’ll be absolutely amazed by what God has in store for your children, for you, and your whole family life.

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Encouraging Podcasts for Christian Women

Podcasts are such blessings for Christian wives and mothers today. Sometimes we just don’t have time to sit down and spend a good chunk of time reading a good book and journaling about it. But, through the gift of technology, God has raised up some wonderful women who have one purpose: to encourage us in our walks with the Lord and to serve our families with our whole hearts.

There are so many podcasts out there. But there are a handful that I return to, even listening to episodes from years back, because they continually encourage and equip me. If I’m washing the dishes, painting the stairwell, or having a rest during our daily ‘quiet hour’, listening to these podcasts have fed my soul.

Here are my five favourite podcasts for Christian women!

favpodcasts

Thankful Homemaker

thankfulpodcast

Ah, Marcie is a true Titus 2 mentor. I love listening to her podcasts immensely. The Lord has used several of hers, especially about Self-Discipline in the Home, to really convict and edify me in my role as wife and mother. She has the wisdom, the grace, and the love of living a seasoned life. This is my go-to podcast.

At Home With Sally

sallypodcast

Sally Clarkson has been influential in my walk as a mother. It is through her that the Lord spoke to the desires of my heart of being a whole-hearted mother. It is through her that He planted the idea of homeschooling. Now, seven years into motherhood, Sally continues to encourage me and speak to my heart. Sally calls us higher and that is something I am so thankful for.

Confidently Called

confidentlypodcast

Jennifer has had a couple of uears break with her podcast (and I think blogging too), but there are still so many gems there that her podcast just keeps on feeding! However, she has recently released two new episodes and they are fantastic – especiallu the one about Home with guest speaker, Jen. I also loved the one with Amy Roberts about creating anchors in our homeschool days.

Raising Arrows

raisingpodcast

Speaking of Amy Roberts, I just love her grace and wisdom. There are so many pressures today for us to just have it together. Do you feel that too? With put together pictures on blogs, or stunning images on IG – there are unspoken messages everywhere for women to just be perfect. I have gone off IG for that very reason. But Amy? She is a mother of a lrage family and she knows that life is not perfect. Yet, she encourages us to just keep moving forward. I love that about her. She is like a warm hug!

Risen Motherhood

risenpodcast

This is one of the most popular podcasts out there for Christian mothers – and I know why! It’s Christ-centred, Word-rooted, and plain od’ encouraging. I haven’t listened to tonnes of episodes, because they tend to be slightly longer, but the ones I have listened to have been just such a blessing. A recent interview with Jani Ortlund (her book Fearlessly Feminine is one of my favourites) was just so rich and heart-warming. They have a book too, and many resources for your walk with Christ.

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 So here they were! Have you listened to any of them? Do you have any suggestions?