Wednesday, April 26, 2017

My Yard in Bloom!

“Nobody sees a flower - really - it is so small it takes time - we haven't time - and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.”
― Georgia O'Keeffe

When my family and I walked out the door to go to church on Easter Sunday, we were delighted to see that the tulips had popped into bloom, as if on cue. They are still on parade. Some have faded away while new ones have opened up, so I wanted to capture the scene while I still have it to enjoy. Here is my yard en fleur, tulips and beyond... Happy Spring!

Monday, April 17, 2017

2017--2018 Catholic Homeschool Curriculum

Happy Easter, everyone! I know it is only the middle of April, but yes, I have already prepared my curriculum for the next homeschooling year! Keep in mind that I'm only teaching one child, so I have more time than many of you to get a heart start. 

Very often I encounter some sort of difficulty or suffering during Lent, and this year was no different. There was a death in my family right before Lent began, and that was a sorrowful time. But what was keeping me awake at night toward the end of Lent was a peculiar crisis in which I felt anxious about how I was going to approach 7th grade literature. I think this came about because 7th grade means junior high school, at least for those of us for whom "middle school" was not a thing growing up. So this is the phase when children become teenagers and are gearing up for high school. It's the beginning of the big leagues, and I knew I would need to present new experiences and greater challenges.

In order to work through the crisis and start sleeping well again, I had to go ahead and hammer out the curriculum. Thank goodness for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the wonderful moms who answered my questions and supported my ideas in various Facebook homeschooling groups. I appreciate you more than you can know!

What I've come up with is a curriculum which reflects a synthesis of approaches recently discussed here at Organic Mothering--Charlotte Mason, the Scholastic Method of traditional Catholic education, and Classical studies and principles. I explored the connections between these philosophies, and I'm now feeling like I can proceed confidently forward. I'm calling this synthesis, Vintage Catholic Home Education.

Initially in my struggle with how to approach literature and historical fiction for 7th grade, I considered working with the study guides from Memoria Press. But after much prayer (and debate in my own mind!), I've decided to continue in the CM method, transitioning from mostly oral narrations to a greater practice of written ones. (I will, however, be using a mini-guide for Mara, Daughter of the Nile, that I found at Rainbow Resource Center.) 

This spring term I've begun having Beezy answer chapter study questions that I write, and those will be incorporated next year as well. At the end of each book will be a final exam, basically a CM-style essay. I've also added Laura Berquist's classical compilation of poetry, speeches, and Shakespeare, The Harp and Laurel Wreath, which includes lessons for dictation and study questions. This is a most excellent resource, and I'm excited to get going with it!

I've assimilated CM well over the years, but I will continue to read her Original Homeschooling Series and refer back to books I've already read as needed. I want more structure for science next year, so I'm adding Seton's 7th grade text/workbook. We will continue to take nature walks and keep the nature notebook, but especially during the winter it will be beneficial to study science and health subjects more formally. I've also added a couple of art lesson books, as this is an area I felt was weak in our curriculum this year. Though I've always designed my own curriculum and have been intent upon following Charlotte Mason very closely, I realized that for going to the next level I felt more comfortable adding a little more of the traditional materials. 

Please note that music is being delegated to others for the most part next year. Beezy will have Choir and Musical Theater classes with a homeschooling co-op and will continue with her piano lessons. Physical education this year is being covered by a tumbling class, and that will continue next year. These are subjects of intense personal interest, and I think it's important to feed those needs. And we homeschooling parents cannot do everything ourselves!

As usual, my curriculum outline is set up for the requirements of my state. If it seems like an overwhelming number of books, please know that I don't expect to get through everything in one year. Like Sarah Mackenzie says on her blog, Amongst Lovely Things, planning is guessing! We will likely defer some of this plan to the 8th grade. Feel free to use what you would like for your own curriculum! 

I. Vintage Catholic Home Education: We will be using a self-designed curriculum integrating the Scholastic Method of traditional Catholic education; the philosophy and method of Charlotte Mason; and Classical studies and principles. Drawing from the books and resources listed below, learning tools such as living books, narration, copy work, dictation, and memory recitation will be utilized, with a core of Religion and the liberal arts.
II. Curriculum Books and Resources:

- Seton Home Study School (
- Memoria Press (
- Catholic Heritage Curricula (
- Charlotte Mason Original Homeschooling Series
- The Holy Bible, Douay-Rheims Version
- Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie
- Public and home library selections
- Real Learning by Elizabeth Foss
- Ambleside Online (
- Mater Amabilis: A Charlotte Mason Style Curriculum for Catholics (

III. Subjects and Books/Materials:

Language ArtsA Book of Fortitude (Seton reader); Mara, Daughter of the Nile (McGraw) and mini-guide from Rainbow Resource Center; A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys and Tanglewood Tales (Greek myths by Nathaniel Hawthorne); Lassie Come-Home (Knight); King Arthur and His Knights (Robinson); The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (Pyle); Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb; Bard of Avon and Good Queen Bess (Stanley/Vannema); The Harp and Laurel Wreath (poetry and dictation); The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Twain); Language of God grammar and composition (CHC); Handwriting for Young Catholics (Seton); correspondence; popular fiction (free reading); Learn Spanish with Grace!

Religion, Geography and History– Religious Education class at parish church; Prayers for Young Catholics (Daughters of St. Paul); Pure Faith: A Prayer Book for Teens (Evert); The Gospel of St. Luke; Bible History for Young Catholics (Seton, Old and New Testament volumes); Journeys with Mary (De Santis); Our Catholic Legacy Vol. 1 (Seton world history); A Child's Geography of the World (Hillyer); Usborne Essential Atlas of the World; The Life of Saint Patrick (Reynolds); Augustine Came to Kent (Willard); Columbus and the New World (Derleth); Pocahontas and Captain John Smith (Marie Lawson); Fifty Stories from Ohio (Martzolff); Sauder Village Farm and Living History Museum membership; States & Capitals flash cards

MathematicsHamilton’s Essentials of Arithmetic (measurement; fractions; time and money; place values; addition and subtraction with regrouping; multiplication; division; decimals and percentages, etc.);; Archimedes and the Door of Science (Bendick); math manipulatives; flash cards; calendar; board games; baking

Science and Health Science 7 for Young Catholics (Seton: history of science, scientific method, geology, chemistry, electricity, space flight, the five senses); General Hygiene (Overton); Nature Anatomy (Rotham); The Meaning of Trees (Hageneder); Nature walks and notebook; The Feelings Book: The Care & Keeping of Your Emotions (American Girl); sustainable living and organic gardening; Humane Society volunteer work

Physical EducationTumbling class; basketball team; dance; daily outdoor play; hiking; sledding; trampoline; running; swimming; scooter; climbing; horseback riding; bicycling; dog walks

Fine Arts Choir and Musical Theater homeschool co-op classes; piano lessons; The Story of Painting (Janson); Creating Art: Lessons & Projects for the Grammar Stage (MP); Draw and Write Through History: Greece and Rome (Gressman); Anholt’s Artist Books for Children series; folk songs and hymns; card making; art museum visits; attendance at plays and concerts; dramatic play; parks and recreation/library arts and crafts programs; movies and documentaries; videography and photography; creative writing

First Aid, Safety, and Fire Protection – Continued reinforcement of these subjects through library materials, field trips, and home safety plans

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Giving Up Distractions--Clutter

Here we are in Holy Week, the final stretch of Lent. How have we faced our trials and carried our crosses? How well have we offered up our sufferings? And how can we continue to give up our distractions, for good?

Everything I've written about in this series is clutter of a kind. The mental, emotional, and spiritual clutter is perhaps all the more insidious because we can't literally see it. But it could also be that the physical clutter in our home environments is indicative of the deeper, hidden elements. I think that the physical clutter has something to do with holding on to the past.

Some of us are more sentimental than others. Indiscriminately throwing everything out is no better than clinging to every little possession. Either extreme is a sign of imbalance. So no, we can't just set fire to all of it and begin again. Unless there is, actually, a fire or a flood or some such disaster that clears the clutter for us. Usually, we have to employ prayer and self-discipline and attend to our stuff with temperance and diligence. It sounds as if we are being called upon to cultivate virtue, doesn't it?

When I was a young adult, I tended to pride myself on being from a family of pack-rats. I also believed in the popular notion that creative people are by nature messy. The chaos of my apartment bore testament to my artistic, sentimental soul! It didn't help that as a Montessori teacher, I was encouraged to save anything that could be used to create "works" for the children. As such, I had a substantial collection of things like laundry detergent lids in my tiny kitchen closet.

There was one saving grace. Two, actually. The first was the Kidney Foundation charity. My youngest brother had a kidney removed as a newborn, so as a way to protect the health of his remaining kidney, I gave to the KF. They came to collect one's donations. I gave so often that they would call me monthly when they were scheduled to pick up from my neighborhood. I had no money to give to the poor, but somehow I always had stuff. I learned that when one gives of one's abundance, the Lord provides.

The other saving grace was my sensitivity to beauty, which I inherited from both parents. My mom's primary artistic outlet has always been home decor. I grew up with her regular rearranging of the furniture. Because of my own impulses to suddenly need to move the furniture around and re-decorate, I would be forced to clean! I also enjoyed entertaining friends and having parties, so there was that motivation to bring order to my surroundings as well.

These principles should hold true for all of us. We are called to be charitable with our time and our possessions. Our God is a God of order. There is no Beauty without order. And hospitality and Christianity go hand in hand. So it seems that we've received a divine ordinance to clear the clutter.

After sorting out my clothes to donate this Lent, I realized that there is no need anymore to store away off-season clothing, having pared my wardrobe down so well. And the way the weather works in my neck of the woods, it makes more sense to have just one, year-round capsule wardrobe. Sure, there are those few items that belong exclusively to winter or summer, but much of the time we are in-between the various seasons. Layers are the name of the game!

And so with clothing squared away and my vanity table tidy (jewelry and make-up sorted and organized), I had to face finishing up with my books. And this I have accomplished. I'm far from finished. There are still the magazines, the personal papers, and those sentimental items that will require my intense attention. There are closets, drawers and cupboards that will see the light of day and be shown very little mercy. Oh, and there is my daughter's room. But let's not think about that today. It's painful, my friends, this clearing of every type of clutter, but it's the virtuous thing to do. It's the kind thing to do, for ourselves and for our families. We have to start with being good stewards of our own homes before we can effectively spread the love.

Have a happy Easter, my dears, and I'll see you dancing in the Son!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

What If Sarah Mackenzie Is Right?

 Sarah Mackenzie

Okay friends, time to get real! I am very, very distracted right now. My Lenten dreams seem like so much sand running out from between my fingers. This might be a moment of reckoning. I was up at 3:30 a.m. filled with anxiety. Maybe it's hormones, or the fact that I'm on antibiotics for a sinus infection. Perhaps the weather is to blame. But today the sun is out. Though not quite warm enough for porch sitting, things are looking springy and fine.

Well, with my blurry-eyed vision in the wee hours of insomniac hell, I pulled out Sarah Mackenzie's Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakable Peace. I've been mulling over a certain paragraph in her book, and here it is:

     Whether or not you purchase an open-and-go curriculum doesn't really matter. You can pretty much forget all the heated discussions about whether you are caving in to school-at-home if you use traditional workbooks or a straight-from-the-box curriculum. I know successful homeschooling families who use textbooks and successful homeschooling families who eschew them. I don't think that's a relevant debate to be having if we want to teach from rest and become happy, content, peaceful, and effective homeschooling moms.  (pp. 31-32)

And then there's her article at Amongst Lovely Things titled, "My Biggest Homeschooling Mistake: Over-thinking Methods and Philosophies" ( The whole thing is quotable, so read it in its entirety. But here is a portion of the wisdom:

"It was only when I silenced the voices of educational gurus coming from the bookshelf and internet and really paid close attention to my own children that I found our groove. One does not need to be versed in educational methodology to teach well. One needs to love her child. Pay attention to him. Notice how he learns- what he understands easily, what hinders his understanding.

If I had spent those hours watching my children and following my instincts instead of reading up on this or that educational philosophy, I would have reaped greater rewards far sooner.

My children would have received a better education, and I would have been a happier, more-content homeschooling mother."

I have resisted what Sarah is saying in this regard for some time now. Of course philosophy and method matter, right? How can they not? What if we have attached so much time and energy and faith to this stuff that we have become obsessed, confused, and the very antithesis of unshakable peace. More like a bowl of jello during an earthquake.

What if I just want to be a Catholic homeschooler and take JPII's advice, "Families, be who you are!"?  Do you know, I can't even find a general Catholic homeschooling group on Facebook anymore? Everything is a niche or combination of niches--classical, Charlotte Mason, unschooling, following a particular curriculum, you name it. But oh, I have told myself, I don't want to be eclectic. I want to be true to CM. But I like Seton and their text/workbooks and vintage reprints and Catholic historical fiction. And CHC's grammar and composition book really fits the bill. But...what about those lovely classical principles???

The truth is, we can't say yes to everything. We have to say no to some things, even good things. 
(And you can quote me on that.)

I think that researching scholasticism has made me realize the we have a grand tradition of Catholic education going back many hundreds of years, and there is no reason to reject it. Can I just be a Catholic home educator, in complete and true freedom, please?!

What if Sarah Mackenzie is right?