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How can you get kids and adults “into the zone”?
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Classical music, of course!

I mentioned in my last post that we play classical music all day long. I don’t know, it seems like it puts a magical spell on everyone! Not as much bickering and productivity is at an all time high. The music is usually left on until well after dinner and actually requested to be kept on…MAGIC, I tell you.
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The cool thing about this “magic”, Penny seems to pick up on using the right side of her brain. She can be found creating all sorts of abstract art, scribbling and coloring to the music. I love it. Of course her zone gets interrupted when opera starts playing out on the speakers and everything…STOPS.

It’s tradition ever since I started this blog, to show 1st day of school photos…well, this is my 2nd year of homeschooling and the official start of the school year is sort of a blur. Do I begin with the kids’ academic classes at a nearby homeschool extension? Do I begin with the day that I go over their schedule, books and basics for the year? Do I begin with my first meltdown?

A few days ago, I was feeling incredibly defeated and then I was reminded…this is part of homeschooling. It’s not just about teaching my kids, getting things organized, staying on task, eating lunches together, reading great books, listening to classical music during the school day, exploring interests…but rather confronting the side of me that I don’t like and making a change. I suppose being home with your kids exposes a lot about yourself. I’ve learned that I’m incredibly organized, I never want to fail, and I have little tolerance for eye rolling and teasing.

So if you think I’m perfect (and I really hope no one does), these are the things I am working on this school year:

- Ignore most of the kids discussions, arguments and opinions.
That sounds so mean! What I mean is that if kids are chatting in the next room and I’m not part of the discussion, I will ignore it. They don’t need me to chime in unless it is absolutely necessary. I think this will help with my overall stress level. I hope most mothers can relate to this scenarion!

-Make our school days longer than last year, leaving more room for one on one attention.
I work 2 nights a week. This kind of schedule works just fine, it’s just that the other 2 days of the school week (excluding Friday) I filled with errand running and activities. I felt so swamped and pressure to keep with a rigid schedule. We usually were done with school by lunch or just after, but this didn’t help with my stress.

SO, the kids already know that we are taking a break after lunch and rejoining our school work at 1pm. Unless I work that day, we will have all afternoon to work on school projects, etc.

So when will I do errands? Saturday morning at the crack of dawn. I’m a morning person and Simon has agreed to help me (he’s my morning guy). Activities? The kids are taking a bunch of enrichment classes on Friday and I love killing 2 birds with one stone.

-Lesson plan every 6 weeks.
Last year, I planned on a weekly basis. I hated it. I thought doing this would allow me to be flexible and “go with the flow”, but it just was a chore.

This past summer, while reading someone’s homeschooling blog, they mentioned that their school year is broken up in 6 week terms. BRILLIANT. All 3 kids have their schedules for the next 6 weeks and I have a really great broad view of what to expect. I can give myself time to plan for the next 6 weeks.

What if something happens and I get off schedule? Not a big deal. All my planning is written in pencil and I am flexible…the idea is to enjoy the process of planning and not begrudge it. What can I say, I’m a planner/anticipator? Maybe NOT a taskmaster (although some may disagree)?

-Wake up at the same time (6am) every day.
A few days a week I wake up at 6am to either go to the gym or to leave the house by 7:20am for classes once a week. Last year, I did not consistently wake up at the same time and I think this really messed me up. It made me crabby and disorganized.

So- this year, I will wake up consistently and spend that time preparing for Penny’s lessons, meditating/praying, and starting some house chores.

-Post on this blog!

I felt incredibly isolated last year. I know I had a lot of support from family and friends, but I wasn’t really sharing what we were learning! Perhaps it was because I didn’t want to put more pressure on myself, but this year I feel ready to share what it is REALLY like to home school.

It is my goal to change the format of this blog and share more links. I especially want to share books we are reading and projects. Hopefully, my genius husband can help me…I am very far from being technical.

-Listen to my kids.
A few days ago, I was challenged by my son. He was resisting schoolwork and had a basically rotten attitude. I can’t say I was the perfect mother. I was annoyed and took his attitude personally (big mistake, I know.). After things settled, he shared with me what he needed…more of my help. Unlike his older sister, he doesn’t like to work independently. I just assumed he would…I know I would have at his age, but I’m not him. To quote him, “I just like being near people, I need to be around people.”.

This is huge. I am so happy he knew what to say, I am so happy I was willing to listen.

On to my students…
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I am stunned when I look at this photo. Are these kids really my BABIES?!
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Ellie just turned 13 and is in the 8th grade. She will be playing in the local orchestra, participating in a teen home school literature group, taking sewing classes and one Literature class (at our local HS extension).

She and I have committed to going to the gym together twice a week in the afternoons. I respect that she is not a morning person. I’ll just go in the morning by myself once or twice a week. We have already started this routine. It’s been really fun!

High school is next year and we don’t really have a plan. Ellie is open to all sorts of options, so we will have to wait and see…
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Simon is in the 5th grade. I’m excited for Si, he is taking guitar lessons and a bunch of classes at the home school extension we are attending this year. He enjoys being homeschooled and the learning environment, but he also enjoys learning in a group.
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My Penny is in the 2nd grade along with her BFF Piggy. I’ve really tried to add some fun activities for her that will make her more independent and love to learn. She is at that age of wanting to still play/create, but has an interest to read and write…but…

SO, here’s to the beginning of a new school year! Initially, I thought it started off wrong. But then again, let’s just say it didn’t start until I adjusted…ahem.

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I’m a lame blogger and post only occasionally. I’m okay with that.

I’ve had a big year and gave myself a break from blog reading and blog posting. Last August, we began our homeschooling adventure and today we said “good-bye” to the 2010-2011 school year. I thought giving the kids school t-shirts would be the perfect souvenir (funny, they never cared much for getting a t-shirt at their “real” school). A few months back, they had created the perfect mascot…the Shackelbird. I KNEW we had to do something with their designs and tucked them away. I’m so glad I remember where I kept them!

Each “bird” was designed by each kid and shown in birth order. Cute, huh? The only thing, my kids are wondering where mine is!
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Here’s a photo of the kids from August! My, have they grown!

So what did I learn this year?

I really like my kids! I like being with them, they are always forgiving and grateful, eager to please and dedicated to complete their tasks.

Sounds perfect, huh? Well, it is not always. BUT this is what I have learned about my children’s potential while being with them for more concentrated times. I am certainly not the perfect mother and I know for sure I am not a perfect homeschooling mother. Thank goodness for grace and mercy from my loved ones.

We certainly had our moments of frustration, tears, and anger. But in light of that, we have learned to work with one another and not just tolerate one another’s presence.
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What did I learn about Ellie? She has the confidence and will to tackle some pretty tough subjects. I am amazed with her ability to teach herself Algebra 1 and do really well. She also taught herself to knit. With some basic instruction from friends, she really took off and has made quite a few lovely things. Thank goodness for the library and the piles of knitting books that took over the floor of her room!!

She also joined a Teen Literature Group. This group read books that most adults read in high school, college, or NOW. She plowed through and I am so proud of her. Another big thing, she tried out for the local youth symphony and got in! I think it takes guts to play in front of people you don’t know, could you do it?

I also learned that she likes a messy room, needs to be nagged to practice the violin and prefers to sleep in late! Heh.

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What did I learn about Simon?

My only son is the most focused, determined child I know. Homeschooling was the perfect fit for him! Although he enjoys the social aspects of a traditional classroom, he is so much happier being able to read books that interest him and not feel the pressure to perform. He exceeded my expectations!

I appreciated Simon’s new found interest to narrate all the reading assignments he had on a daily basis. I never had a question whether he was comprehending any of the books assigned! This is the beauty of homeschooling, adjusting to fit your child’s way to learn. He felt overwhelmed in the past to regurgitate information by answering questions, now he just has long discussions with me…:)

I am really proud of my Si. He still kept connected with kids from his school, continued on his soccer team and made new friends at the enrichment classes he attended.
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What did I learn about Penny?

What can I say? Teaching a 1st grader is challenging!! I applaud all those mothers that have homeschooled all of their children from Kindergarten and on…I only had Penelope to focus on and that is enough!

We DID have a great year. And 1st grade is a BIG YEAR for crying out loud…you are learning to REALLY READ!! I am proud of her. I emphasized to her today, in fact, what a huge achievement she has accomplished. It’s not always easy to remember all of the “rules of reading” and she did it…whew.

I also learned that she is a lover of Michael Jackson music and will dance her heart out. She also LOVES animals, drawing animals and claiming that she is 1/2 dog. I love this kid.
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What did my kids learn about me?

I can be flexible, but still need to work on it sometimes…
I am human.
I love them.
I cry with frustration.
I am PROUD of them.
I love to learn with them.

I am so very happy with our life.

Are we going to do this crazy homeschooling thing again next year? Yep.
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Recently I made an absurd amount of skirts for Penny. Like 10.

Or perhaps, I had an absurd amount of fabric that needed to make its way OUT of a pile and actually turn into something. And the fact that we are going to California (woot!) in 2.5 weeks, which means we can shed our winter clothes (woot! woot!).
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All I know is that it’s completely gratifying to make simple, cute clothes for at least one of my kids.

Next up-dresses. Yes, there will be at least 4.

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It’s been a rough week. We have entered the last 3 months of homeschooling and I’m feeling like I have a hit a wall. I’m not sure if I need a break, nicer weather, or that this is entirely normal. I’m presuming it’s normal.

Ellie and Simon are independent in their learning, I’ve mentioned this in previous posts. Of course I check in with them and make sure they are on track and we read a lot aloud together. I really love this kind of learning. It’s building their confidence, a huge motivator, and they are encouraged to digest new information on their own without a lot of busy work. I’m amazed with what they have achieved.

Penny, on the other hand is a different story. She is my 1st grader. I know for some people, they are fine with kids at that age playing, creating and exploring the world around them. It’s tough for her. She has 2 older siblings working on their own and a mother that is a bit of a “task master” (ahem). This week I have honestly felt like a failure. I have asked myself “what am I doing wrong?!?!”. Penny is getting a lot of concepts, reading fairly well and eager to learn. BUT, all of the things she is not “getting” seems more amplified than usual. That’s when I began to question myself.

Not question our decision to homeschool, but sort of checking in to make sure that I’m doing the best for my child. And that’s what I realized, I wasn’t doing the best. Sure, if she were in a classroom environment my demands and expectations would be acceptable. But when I began to hear her say words like “I am dumb…stupid…failure”, I had the sobering realization that I contributed to this attitude. I was bent on getting lessons DONE. COMPLETE. FINISHED. I was still living in the classroom environment and not fully embracing our home school with Penny. There’s a lot of pressure to teach your kid to read, write, and math. But the pressure I NEED to feel is that my girl has confidence, feels love and taps into her creative heart.

So after our third day of tears and grief, I shut the school books and told her we were finished for the day. She was very disheartened by this, which made me realize that I had her trained to check off her list. After I suggested she help me with making homemade pasta sauce and meatballs, she was my eager and happy student again.

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She learned that onions, garlic and butter smell heavenly when cooked together. The addition of tomatoes and balsamic vinegar makes the whole project irresistible!

Her hand on the hip cracked me up. She was working hard!
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She also learned that waiting for sauce to simmer is not a bad time to finish up math work. Penny also is diligent in sending me love messages on her work every day. I swear should would do this if she were enrolled in a school too, this girl is full of love!
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Another important lesson we learned during our project is that rosemary smells like pine needles and oregano has a questionable fragrance. She learned that blending meat, herbs, crackers and egg is the job of a little a girl for only a bit…then mom needs to take over and squish everything together with her hands!
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And at the end of the day, when we work together a beautiful thing will happen…lessons learned and this mother is humbled by her sweet daughter.

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I’m at that point in the winter that I’m ready for it to be over. Everyone feels this way. I’m ready to get rid of the boots and shed our coats. One way I get through this time of year is to tackle household projects. There’s no way I want to be painting rooms in the summer, I’d much rather be in the garden or pool side.

Last year, I painted our living room. This year, my kids informed me that they were desperate for some change.

What? No more pink/red room for my little girls?

We’ve lived in our house for nearly 8 years. Before we moved in, we did A LOT of wallpaper stripping, carpet-pulling and painting. We were worn out when our family actually moved in and since then, we have been a bit resistant to too many house projects.

Now, things have changed and I’m on a kick!

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Nothing like a few cold days in February to motivate house projects to check off! Here is a shot of the girls’ room. The lighting is not the best and I’ve taken awhile to post photos because of this, so bear with me.

They both compromised several times on color. Mainly Ellie convincing Penny that her ideas rule. I knew I was up against a lot, so I needed to make sure each girl had a part of the room that was special.
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3:2-14So the big blizzard allowed me some concentrated sewing time. Before painting their room, I was able to make a bunch of pillows for their beds. In order for some individuality, I had each girl pick out fabrics for their bed. Penny was all about drawing on fabric for her pillows! Ellie did a great job figuring out a patchwork pillow with scraps.

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We switched around furniture with Simon, added mirrors, and actually brought in Ellie’s dresser from the hallway.

This is my favorite part of Penny’s side of the room. The little animals are adorable and very much apart of my girl’s love affair with animals.
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My pup, looking so handsome. He likes the new room and spends a good bit of his days on Penny’s bed. He has full view of the neighborhood squirrels.
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Notice the age differences between the girls? Ellie’s desk with photos of friends and Robert Pattinson. Penny’s side with toys, books and dolls. Sigh. They ARE growing up.

As I was painting their room it was very sobering. Eight years ago, we moved to this house and Ellie was 4. Penny was not even in our future. Eight years from now, Ellie will be a few months from 21. Sigh, again. I’m not even doing the math on Penny.

Okay, so on the next room!

Last fall, Nathan tore down the ceiling in Simon’s room. It was plaster and cracking. He replaced the ceiling with dry wall. It was a huge project. Messy and a huge clean up. We waited a few months to continue the project since we knew it would displace Simon for a few nights and it was WORK!

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After he finished up his duties, I came into the picture and painted his room. Once I started taking furniture out of his room I realized that baseboards, doors, and ceiling needed to be painted too. Thankfully, my mom was extremely generous with her time and helped me paint.
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We are a good team.

I still have more work to do, but you get the idea. The plan is to paint some of his furniture a deeper hue of green. I’ll probably tackle that project outside in the Spring!

I love his room. In fact, I take naps in his room regularly. His room also acts as the guest room, so if you want to visit…you’ll have to fight me for his comfortable bed!

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It’s funny, some days I don’t even think or care about maintaining my blog. But then there are days that I have an incredible urge to share photos of our life with family and friends…partly out of guilt and partly I’m mad at myself for not documenting our life better. So today I feel the need to give my blog some love.

I don’t even know who reads “Kidding Around” anymore and I’m sort of glad (although, I ALWAYS love comments). Anyway, I hope to challenge myself and post AT LEAST once a week. I remember a time when I would sometimes post twice in a day. I imagine Facebook has replaced the need to communicate with the outside world.

Anyway, here’s a rundown of the last couple of months.

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I made some cute curtains for our dining room (sorry, the photos were bad) and I had some leftover bird cut outs. I made these mobiles for some special people for Valentines day. Cute, huh? I’m sure most of the world has seen the Portlandia clip “Put a Bird on it” and I guess I’m guilty of using the sweet silhouette. Or at least my kids like to tell me so. Ha!
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We had a blizzard. It was pretty great. Complete with thunder and lightening. And a snow day! Bring on Spring.
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Ellie has grown into a full sized violin (she started with a 1/4 size). I’m not sure why, but I was shocked when she came back from the violin shop with a bigger instrument. She is growing up before my eyes.
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And yet another example of my kids growing up. Simon turned 10 on the 15th of February. It’s crazy. I began this blog when he was 4, so now you can see why I need to keep this thing going!
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Homeschooling is going fine. I feel like I have hit a wall (maybe this will be a separate post). I’m trying to shake things up a bit and teach the kids some things I like to do, like sew. Very simple sewing. It’s a test of one’s patience for sure, especially for the younger 2, but they are champs.

Okay, tomorrow I will be back with 9 more photos! I’ve been busy with painting rooms and checking things off my “to do” list!

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There are 2 schools of thought when it comes to winter.

One, enjoy winter sports and watch LOTS of sports.

Two, hibernate and start a bunch of projects and MAYBE complete them all!

I know there are a lot of you that probably do both, but right now I am choosing to tolerate winter and get by with a few sewing projects. I have a new partner joining me in hibernation…Ellie! She has picked up the knitting bug and I am so proud of her persistence.

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This past weekend, we stopped at the library and found a jackpot of all sorts of knitting books that she has been pouring over ever since…in fact, there are a few more not pictured (I’m sure they can be found in her bedroom which consists of piles of books!).

Every time we go to the craft store, she is buying more yarn and needles…that’s my girl!

The only problem, I don’t know how to knit or know the language of knitting. Thankfully, a friend of mine offered to show her some new stitches. I wanted to repay her in some way and since winter=hibernation=projects, I thought I’d make her a gift.
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I used a pattern in the Impatient Patchworker, a book that was given to me and I really like! Very simple projects for people like me…impatient (remember, I don’t knit!).

It’s projects like this that prevents me from moaning and groaning about the weather. Reading helps too. I have a few more projects in production that I will be sure to share in the coming weeks. Everything from new dining room curtains to redecorating the girls’ room to finishing Simon’s ceiling to a Pascha basket cover…I know I am thinking big.

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And then, just like that- it will be Spring!

What are you doing to keep things lively?

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a day in the life

I have really enjoyed and been encouraged in reading Simple Homeschool’s “Day in the Life” series…I thought I would participate. As many of you know, this is my first year homeschooling all 3 of my children (12,9,6). I did homeschool my oldest for kindergarten. It was a marvelous year, but at the time Simon was 2.5 and I was pregnant with Penny. I felt overwhelmed and knew it was not the time to continue our homeschooling life. We enrolled Ellie the following school year.

So, now when people say they can’t ever imagine being able to homeschool their kids, I feel a bit ashamed. I bailed out during the toughest learning periods (in my opinion) for 2 of my kids and sent them to a nearby private school. I don’t feel bad at all about their experience in the private school, just guilty that people praise me for teaching my kids at home…they came to me well prepared! Honestly, my 2 oldest are pretty independent and go through their day very responsibly.

I am homeschooling a 1st grader. It’s tough- but totally rewarding as well! For example, this past week we began dictation. I imagined that it may be a bit of challenge and I was prepared to wait until Penny was ready. I was wrong! This is her favorite part of her reading lesson. That’s what I love about homeschooling a 1st grader, you really do see the light bulb go off many times a day. This is so needed, because I can not tell you how may times I have banged my head against the wall!

So- here is our schedule:

6am- I wake up and go to the gym by 6:30…GOAL- 3x a week
7:30- Arrive home, eat bfast, scoot kids upstairs to dress and make beds
8:00-Remind Ellie to wake up, Kids eat bfast, kids do chores (unload dishwasher, straighten rooms), Remind Ellie to wake up (again) brush teeth, WAKE UP ELLIE!
8:30-I get showered, dressed, house hold chores
If the weather is nice, kids go outside and play until 9.
If it’s cold and winter, kids may begin schoolwork or play.
9:00- School begins.
We begin the day with reading Scripture. The kids take turns and read aloud. They don’t know this, but they are practicing their public speaking skills! Plus, it’s a good way to start the day and discuss some very interesting and sometimes difficult topics.

Currently we are learning about American history and we are reading some fantastic novels. I read one book aloud to the kids. If there are any other books to read aloud this is usually the time we do it, sometimes I read with Simon if he is having a difficult time focusing. He does much better being read to and pretty much narrating what he just learned, rather than regirgitating it to questions on a piece of paper.

What’s Penny doing? She’s listening as we read. She and I are reading Story of the World, but she enjoys picking up whatever she can from her sister and brother!

Simon and Ellie are sharing a history and science curriculum which makes it a lot easier. Obviously since Ellie is in 7th grade and Si is in 4th, they take away from their lessons varied levels of information. I love it. They both share the topic and can converse about it…

10:00 Independent learning begins (for Ellie and Simon)

I love “to do” lists, so my kids are given one everyday. Each week, I sit down and sift through their lessons and plan out their week. I don’t like to plan too far ahead, flexibility is necessary!

Basically, their school day is finished once their list is complete. Each child has their own lesson book and they mark off each subject as they go along their day. I plan their subjects based on computer and book availability. I love this time of day. Everyone is busy with their own tasks! It’s quiet, but you can feel the LEARNING going on.

We don’t have a school room, rather, we have 2 couches, a dining room table, a work table, 2 bedrooms and when the weather is nice…a trampoline! I enjoy watching the dance between the 2 older kids sharing the various work spaces they have created for themselves.

SO- what is Penny doing? She and I are at the living room table. We cover Math, Reading, Handwriting, and History within 2 hours. It’s a lot of learning. During this time with Penny I’m giving Simon a spelling test, looking over language arts, grading history workbook pages, folding laundry and prepping for dinner. Whew. Sometimes extra work for Penny may spill into the afternoon, but this is usually fine in the winter and we are cooped up.

12:30- Lunch. End of day, usually.

We finish school at lunch time. My kids do a really good job staying on task. Simon usually needs a little encouragement or extra attention, but I like this…I enjoy learning along with him and it’s a lot less of a struggle if I can determine what he needs and stick beside him.

I work 2 afternoons/evenings a week so I leave the house by 1:30. During this time, the kids do some sort of activity that gets their blood pumping (especially in the winter). They play “Just Dance” or Wii Fit. They also are not permitted to watch TV. I am amazed how they entertain one another with games, and reading aloud…it makes me really proud. On days I don’t work, they come along with me to grocery shop or we work on a project together, or we get outside. Currently we are taking advantage of the many museums with free admission in Chicago. It’s making the month of January very enjoyable!

They do attend enrichment classes once a week for homeschoolers on Fridays and I have also designated that day for Art as well. I’m sure you can imagine there are activities thrown into the schedule like violin, Irish Dance, Daisies, and soccer. I resist becoming too busy and prioritize being home as a family so these outside activities do not happen all at once!

So there you have it. Our day. Not too tough. I could go on about what I have learned this year, but that should be another post! I know next year will be different, but for now this rhythm is working.

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