When we first moved into our house three years ago, I hadn't yet located our plates or shoes, but I made it my top priority to unpack one thing: our books.
Books change how people think, so they change who people are, so they change the world. All at once they can feed us understanding, wonder, enjoyment, and curiosity. They can mobilize us to grow as people who are compassionate, interesting, and brave. The value of books is really not quantifiable.
So, even if you're frugal or a minimalist, I think spending money and taking up space with books is a very worthy sacrifice. The beautiful thing, though, is you don't need to spend that much money to build an incredible collection of books.
The secret, not surprisingly, is to buy used books. There's a time to buy new books (availability and support of the author), but there's also a time to buy used books.
Garage sales and library thrift sales are a great way to add to your library. Oftentimes the books only cost 25-50 cents each, or "stuff a bag for $5." However, since you probably won't find the specific books you want, you'll buy books you probably don't know anything about, and chances are hefty you'll end up getting rid of half of them anyway.
My favorite tool, then, for buying used books is ThriftBooks.com. (No, I'm not an affiliated with them or making any money off of this post or anything. Just recommending!)
Ready for math/confession time? I've bought 217 books from ThriftBooks since July 2016. Yep, 217. But, to give you some price perspective, I just ordered 22 books and the total came to $74.67, which averages to $3.39 a book. So, in the past 18 months, I've probably spent about $800 on books. Considering that literature is our primary homeschool curriculum, that multiple children will be reading these books for many years, that reading brings life to me, and that I give these books as gifts, spending about $800 on books in a year and a half isn't too bad.
I've bought used books online in the past, but the process of finding the titles I need and the added costs for shipping felt really inefficient to me. Here's why I love Thriftbooks so much:
1) You can search for a title and add books to your Wishlist, and they'll send you an email when the book is available. Sometimes I'll find a book I want, and I'll wait seven months until I get that glorious email that an item from my wishlist is now available. This is how I got so many Usborne books for cheap!
2) The website is a lot more intuitive than others I've tried. It's a lot more like searching on Amazon than on eBay; you can find other books by the same author, you can find books by category, you can read summaries and reviews, there aren't too many duplicate titles...It's an enjoyable experience.
3) It's not hard to find a coupon. You'll definitely want to use a Welcome coupon; they're extremely easy to find. After your first purchase, you'll have no trouble finding more coupons. (And I have wikibuy in my toolbar, which automatically finds and tries coupons at checkout.)
4) If you can't find a coupon, they also have a "Reading Rewards" program that gives you a code for $5 every time you spend $50.
5) Shipping is free after you spend $10. Of course, that's factored into the price of the books, but---as you can tell from my averages---it still ends up being quite affordable. Though they usually ship the books the next day, it does take a week (or more) to come in, but it feels like Christmas every time because I don't even remember what I ordered!
Here are some ways these books greatly improve the life of our family:
-When my kids are misbehaving, oftentimes the best thing I can do for them is send them to their rooms with a basket of books and set a timer for 30 minutes. My 3-year-old usually asks for more time because she's having so much fun! Even on road trips, setting them up with books in the RV was one of the best calm-down tools. And, of course, can I possibly exaggerate the value of reading together? We got rid of nearly all our toys several months ago, but books have certainly helped filled the void.
-Sometimes I'll find a book that would be a perfectly thoughtful gift for family members. For example, I bought my mom a Disney recipe book for her birthday, an old non-LOTR Tolkien book for my brother for Christmas, and I keep excellent theological works (in "very good" condition) in my gift closet for any time I need to put together a gift bag to encourage someone. They don't need to know that I only spent $3 on their gift, and some of these out-of-print books have to be bought in used condition.
-I'm confident that if I read books, I'm going to be a better mom, wife, friend, and neighbor. So, for the sake of those around me, reading is important. Even fiction can broaden my perspective and help me become a better person. Plus, escaping my own little world of grumpy mundanity to discover and enjoy thoughts and experiences beyond me, I'm able to bring back wonder and inspiration to my everyday life. Let's kill the stigma that reading is a selfish pursuit or only for antisocial people!
-As I said earlier (and elsewhere on this blog) reading books is the main way we do homeschool. So many of the things I'm learning by reading picture books with my kids is brand new to me as an adult! The Christmas Truce of 1914, the inspiring (and morally complicated) story of abolitionist John Brown, and countless other true stories captivated all of us and made us yearn to live for more. Fantastical tales and funny stories made with beautiful art and language cause us to dream bigger and enjoy more deeply.
Here's a way to find good books for your kids: Start by finding book recommendations on Pinterest; I look up "living history books" or "best books for kids" and find large lists with links to Amazon. On Amazon I read reviews and take peeks inside the books. Then I go on Thriftbooks to buy the books I want or put them on my Wishlist. One hour and a hundred tabs later, you'll be on your way to a greatly-improved family library.
Once I find an author or illustrator I love (such as artists John Hendrix, Brett Helquist, and Catalina Echeverri), I'll look up every other project to which they're connected, and chances are good that I'll like that stuff too.
For personal books, I get a lot of recommendations from The Rabbit Room; it's a good idea to read the authors that inspire your favorite authors! Older books are often invaluable because they've actually stood the test of time. A lot of modern authors are trying to ride trends to make money, but I prefer to read books by people who wrote for the good of the audience, even future readers that are born long after the author dies. I get vibes of that kind of timeless, writing-for-generations-to-come intentionality when I read Tozer or Spurgeon.
Hopefully this is encouraging to you! All this talk of the value of reading makes me want to go read to my babies! Check back tomorrow for some of the top books I recommend for kids and adults along with mini summaries of each! And if you have any secrets for buying books on the cheap, I would love to hear them :)
Over the past few weeks, you've probably heard about recent discoveries that extremely inappropriate (and even abusive) content marketed to children has slipped through YouTube Kids filters and is being watched by very young children with incomprehensible amounts of frequency and popularity. (Just Google "Youtube kids" and click on "News" if you haven't heard about this yet.) People are making serious money by creating awful videos---both in production quality and in content, some of which is pornographic and/or abusive---and using keywords or characters that appeal to children. Copyrighted characters such as Elsa or Peppa Pig are being put into disturbing situations. I've read at least a dozen articles about it, and it only becomes more troubling the more I read. There are a lot of theories about why people are making such videos (possibly even an international conspiracy), and there really isn't a way to measure how these videos are traumatizing young kids, but that's not what I'm trying to address here. I'm deeply concerned even about the "safe" and "clean" videos that are racking up millions and millions of views.
When my son was a year old, I started using YouTube to entertain him a little, especially when I was pregnant. If he was crying in the car, I would sometimes hand him a video of garbage trucks picking up garbage. I soon found that there was an overwhelming amount of video content made specifically for babies like him, but the startling thing about it was how long these videos were and how many times they've been viewed. For example, a 54-minute-long "Wheels on the Bus" compilation by LittleBabyBum currently has 2,014,608,851 views. I don't know how many of those "views" are automated/produced by bots, but needless to say, millions of babies have been handed a phone or tablet and essentially been told, "Here's a super-crappy video that will hopefully keep your attention for the next hour. Bye." Most of us, self included, have been "those parents," willing to sacrifice quality for convenience, but maybe never calculating the true cost. I'm desperate for this to no longer be the norm.
We're getting to the place where we need to see that tablets and phones can't babysit our kids.
Here's another startling example: a friend told me that her kids were being very quiet one day, and she found them huddled around her phone. When she looked at the browser tabs open, she discovered that her very young kids had asked the AI on her phone for "pictures of butts." My kids had recently figured out how to ask Siri questions as well, but I didn't realize that by using this tool they would be able to find terrible things on the internet long before they're even able to spell or type. My friend's warning could've saved my innocently curious kids from stumbling onto porn at a preschool age.
Let me be clear: I am not trying to make rules or heap up Mommy Guilt. My kids have been watching a lot of Mulan lately, and I really enjoy the new Magic Schoolbus series. I have some apps on my phone that I will occasionally hand to my older children for set amount of time (after I turn on airplane mode.) And I actually love Youtube and watch it with my kids all the time. But the important thing is with.
Even on educational, child-friendly videos, I've seen commercials for horror films, or the suggested videos in the margins have had scary/gross thumbnail images. The kids have learned to look away when they see an ad. YouTube is truly an amazing resource that lets us see how cheese is made in factories or what cicadas look like when they emerge from their 17-year hibernation. The kids and I love to watch funny videos together too. However, anyone (self included) can very quickly find harmful content on YouTube, and especially now that I know people are putting up videos of Elsa and Spider-Man getting intimate, it's clear that YouTube as Babysitter cannot be an option.
So what should we do instead? If your kids are too young to go to school (or if you choose to keep your kids at home with you), what do you even do with them all day?
Well, I've written about this a lot because it's my life, so I need to figure it out ASAP, ha! I'm still constantly getting smacked in the face with the results of my bad parenting---and like I said, the kids and I have become really familiar with the Mulan movies lately---but I've learned a lot of helpful things. I'm constantly being humbled by how much easier my children are to parent when I've been actually parenting them with some consistency! If they've been spending a lot of time on the screens, they won't be super excited about reading with me or playing pretend.
There is no shortage articles about what to do with young kids (including more than half a dozen that I've written and linked to at the bottom), but if you don't want to click on those, here are my top 5 recommendations for how to keep kids busy and enriched all day:
1) Encourage art. Get some gel crayons, quality watercolors, and a cheap sketchbook, then make art with your kids. If you tell them they're making art as a gift for someone specific, they'll probably take it more seriously and do a better job. (Plus, then you don't have to keep all the masterpieces in your house, ha!)
2) Get a family pass somewhere. Weekly field trips to the aquarium or children's museum (and the places you can stop nearby or on the way) can be so good for a child. A Netflix subscription costs over $100/year, and a family membership to a quality museum---which often include reciprocal benefits that allow you into other museums---typically costs about the same. If money's tight, consider ditching the TV and committing to field trips instead. And if you're lucky enough to live somewhere nature-centric---I envy you---get a State Park family pass!
3) Invest in a quality family library or commit to regular visits to your local library. Reading together passes time quickly and feeds your child's creativity in other areas of play and discussion. Your kid might make his own Egyptian paddle doll with a popsicle stick or pretend that he's in a warship going to battle. The more their minds have to work with, the less work you have to do in coming up with ideas for play! I typically buy my books used from yard sales or on ThriftBooks.com, but supporting authors and enabling them to create more excellent content is certainly a worthy investment too.
4) Chores. Doing work keeps them busy, others-focused, and empowered to feel like a helpful part of the family.
5) Go outside with no agenda. Oh how I love to sit and read while my kids run around! Of course it's good to play with them, but it's also very good for them to play by themselves. My secret to encouraging independent play (even when my babies are six months old) is to be boring! If my kids are being clingy, I'll let them sit on my lap, but I won't do anything...I'll just sit. Eventually they'll leave of their own volition and figure out a way to have fun! Plus, if you eat outside, you don't have to clean up spilled orange juice or a thousand pieces of rice.
So in summary:
Let's reevaluate the role technology is allowed to play in our lives and especially in the lives of our kids. We don't need to be fundamentalists or alarmists to see that there is some serious danger for kids online. If our minds are being hijacked, as Silicon Valley tech insiders are saying, I can't even imagine what's happening to our kids. If they're going to watch something, let's choose resources that are high-quality enough for us to watch with them. And let's spend some time enjoying our kids. Why did we even have children if we try to avoid taking the time to love them and pour into them? (I'm speaking to myself here!)
Now go delete the YouTube Kids app and hug your children. :)
Here are some articles I've written about playing with little kids, if that's helpful!
How to Play with Little Kids When You Have Zero Energy
Hobbies, Habits of Grace, and Hanging Out With Toddlers
23 of My Favorite Resources for Helping Children Love Jesus
How Not to Despise Parenting Little Ones
DIY Co-Ed Scout Program
How to Play Pretend with a Bunk Bed Or Anywhere
I'm going to confess to you a struggle that is so uniquely millennial---Cartoon-Network-watching 90's kid in particular---that many of my readers won't be able to relate: I absolutely detest kitchen gloves. Those yellow, elbow-high rubber monstrosities reek of all the things I hate about the "homemaker" persona. Maybe it's because Mom from the cartoon Dexter's Laboratory---with her clean-freak tendencies and exaggerated mom-bod---couldn't survive without her gloves and was very rarely seen without them. Even as a child, I saw that woman on the screen and vowed I would never become her. I still hate aprons, too. A self-respecting, intelligent woman is not known for her housework. If she must do it---and I didn't want to think I'd ever be in the position where I actually had to do cleaning---then she certainly doesn't need to humiliate herself by donning those gaudy yellow gloves.
Well, as you all know---you're surely tired of hearing about it----God's plan for my early 20's was to thrust me into this homemaker role. Since kids keep being added to our family (which I so thoroughly love), the mess keeps increasing, which I so thoroughly despise. But God is teaching me so much about humility and pleasure and confidence and worth that I felt it might be helpful to share.
A couple months ago, our dishwasher stopped working. It was my fault, certainly, because I put extremely-dirty dishes in the washer without rinsing. Food blocked the tubing for far too long, and it's broken. Lately my husband has had so much on his plate (pun intended) that he hasn't had time to fix it or buy a new one. So I've been hand-washing dishes for five people---three meals a day plus countless snacks---for over two months. (I understand that many women around the world, throughout all history, and also among my friends do not have a dishwasher, so I'm not doing anything impressive.) After a couple weeks of enduring dry skin and weak fingernails, I realized that the wet-hands thing wasn't working for me. I had an emergency pair of yellow rubber gloves in a drawer somewhere, and it was time to wear them.
The unexpected thing about all this is that I have begun to really, really enjoy washing the dishes by hand, yes, even with my gloves. Since I'm super-pregnant and super-tired, I don't clean the dishes every night, so they do indeed pile up; it's how I punish my husband for not fixing the dishwasher yet. (I'm a role-model wife, as you can see.) But when I squeeze out the soap and start the hot water, I truly relish the slowness of the process, the feels and the smells, and the peacefulness of absorbing a good podcast or audiobook...it's all so genuinely cathartic. It's my realistic alternative to a hot bath at the end of the day.
But I've had to wrestle with this huge issue that's plagued me since I first became "homeward in orientation": aren't you worth more than this?
The thoughts continue: Shouldn't an ambitious woman be finding great delight in something greater than washing the dishes? Is this really you, Hope? Who have you become? You should be true to your heart, like all the Disney princesses.
But the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced about the freedom of it all. I've been given limitations that spark true creativity, as I've written about before. If all my life is driven by this great and glorious cosmic purpose, that God is uniting "all things in Him, in heaven and on earth" (Ephesians 1:10) and I'm invited to help bring broken people back to the perfect and loving God (2 Corinthians 5), then every single thing I do to that end is extremely important. Also, Jesus calls us to be "last of all and servant of all" (Mark 9:35), and He totally exemplified that by His others-focused life---epitomized, of course, by His death so that sinners like me could be saved. If I think I'm only worthy of snazzier work than, um, the King who upholds the universe by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3), then I've got gnarlier issues to deal with than a broken dishwasher.
Here's why cleaning the home is so significant and important: Housework sustains the home, and the home is the nucleus that drives all the good works we're trying to do. Here in the home, and especially around that crumb-laden table, we are having conversations about truth and compassion and justice and generosity. As we eat pumpkin bread (which dirties many dishes), little minds are thinking deeply about why they exist and what can give them the greatest joy. They're finding motivation to donate their money or create bags for the homeless or make cards for kids who are suffering. They're learning manners that might come in handy if they someday have the chance to plead with a foreign dignitary on behalf of helpless people. They're seeing the imperfection of their parents and learning that messing up is normal but humbling yourself to change is vital.
I don't know what's going to become of my children. Statistically speaking---in today's culture and biblical history alike---I have 0% control over how my kids end up. I can't raise them with certainty about any results in mind, and I'm trying to prepare myself for the kinds of questions that I never want to hear but most likely will. And quantifiably, there isn't a whole lot of stuff going on in these walls and around this table (I've written about that as well.) However, even as I so desperately want to run from homemaking, more than I ever I am becoming convinced that this is really important business. I can't afford to downplay the significance of what is going on in this home.
My worth isn't in being a respected intellectual or even an incredible homemaker; my worth is in Jesus. And whatever He has me doing, whether it offers a salary or not, whether my work uniform necessitates a suit or those wretched rubber gloves...it's all so very important. So I can look at my gloves, my dish soap, and that grody pile of plates and cups and pots and pans, and I can get genuinely excited about the next hour. (It takes that long to wash the dishes when you let them pile up, ha!) I can feel empowered and strong as ever, knowing that I have what I need, I know who I am, and I love it.
Next, for the sake of my poor stained clothes, I really need to go through this whole mental process again and start wearing an apron.
Image from public domain
Most women I know say they're unable to function when their house is really messy; I think I was born without that chromosome. I would rather do almost anything than clean. "Nesting" is not a pregnancy symptom to which I can relate. I'm always striving to become a better homemaker, and I think I really am getting better (minimizing dramatically at the beginning of 2017 really helped) but the reality is my house is "visitor-ready" only maybe 1.5% of the time. Maybe you can relate. If so, here are some of the upsides to having a messy home:
1) When you tell people "I promise I don't have my act together", they believe you.
When I confess to my friends that I'm really trying to figure out how to be a thriving human, they know I'm not being self-deprecating or facetious. I'm not pretending to be relatable. They've seen my kitchen. They know I've got a long, long way to go. Nobody has to worry about me being the perfect mom who "does it all" because we all know I don't. So, aware of my weakness, they can be a huge support to me!
2) Strong immune systems.
I'm quite serious. My kids very rarely get sick, and when they do it's almost always only a cold. Sure, we can attribute this to a combination of genetics, daily orange juice, and God's mercy, but I think one of the biggest reasons is because our home isn't super sanitized. Those antibodies are always working!
3) Awesome hiding spots for Hide and Seek.
There are all kinds of places to hide when your home isn't tidy. Curling up under rumpled blankets is one of the very best, and that just wouldn't be possible if the beds were always made.
4) You make guests feel better about themselves.
I suppose it's rude to scoff, but I probably do that very thing when my friends tell me their house is messy. I've been to their homes. Most women don't regularly have three days worth of dishes on their counter like I do. So I'm sure that any of my guests who dread their own imperfections can come to my home and see that we are all quite imperfect, some of us more visibly than others.
5) You have to face issues of the heart head-on.
This has happened at least a hundred times: I'm about to have a dozen or more people over, but today was crazy and I really haven't had the chance to clean as much as I hoped. I really love these people and I need to do a better job of preparing my home so they feel welcome. However, all those feelings of insecurity I have need to be dealt with. I can't just not open my home because it's not "ready." Who am I even trying to impress, and why does their approval mean anything to me? I've got to get rid of this "keeping up appearances" idea and try simply to be present for my guests.
6) If you're not keeping up with your housework, it's quite possible that you're focusing on more important work instead.
I'm not talking laziness/idleness here. That's not good, and I'm certainly guilty of both. But it's also quite possible that, at the end of your day, your house is messy yet you still feel spent because you've been loving people all day long. Maybe you chose to read books to your kids instead of doing the dishes. Maybe you have so many dishes to do because you cooked a ton of meals that your family or guests enjoyed. Just because your priorities don't reflect the magazines doesn't mean that your priorities are wrong.
I'll close with one of the scriptures that has encouraged me the most as a wife and mom. You've probably never heard of this verse when people talk about homemaking, but I think it applies perfectly.
Proverbs 14:4 says, "Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox."
Keeping a barn tidy sure would be easy if there weren't any animals in it! But if there aren't any animals in a barn, what's the point? Your farm wouldn't be producing anything.
In the same way, I would rather have a messy house full of living people who are learning and growing and thriving and being sent out into the world than a perfectly beautiful yet lifelessly empty environment. Ideally---and we should always working towards this---we can have a clean and loving home, but if we have to err on one side, I think mess-because-of-investing-in-people is the better side. And, of course, you don't have to be married or have kids to fill your home with people. Hospitality can be practiced by anyone, whether you're a single dude in a tiny apartment or an empty nester with vacant bedrooms. But my point is, a life full of people is a full life. I'd rather have a full life than a perfect life.
So be encouraged, messy friends. Strive for excellence in everything you do, yes, but the condition of your home is not nearly as important as the condition of your heart. Deal with the latter first.
My baby turns two this week! If I were to write a book about her life, it would be titled The Baby Who Smells Like Beef. She is one of the strangest and most delightful people I've ever met, and it's going to be so hard to write this post because there are so many things that make Evangeline the special little girl she is. We call her Evey, but mostly---and still inexplicably---she is referred to as Goopy, even by herself. Parenting fail! Anyway, here are some of the things I love most about her.
She is so silly. From a very young age, she's been able to make funny faces on demand, and she loves to tease and giggle and make goofy statements.
She is deeply compassionate (most of the time.) When one of her siblings is crying, she looks at me with big, sad eyes and says "Brother crying." She is generous with hugs and kisses to someone who is sad.
She loves risk. A friend commented recently, "Does she have no sense of self-preservation?" She gets bloody lips or gnarly boo-boos at least once a month just from running too fast or climbing something she had no business climbing. It hasn't yet occurred to her that she's only one year old; she has no sense of her natural limitations. I love that about her but I'm also trying to mentally prepare myself for some X-rays and hospital visits. She is a skater dude's child, after all.
As previously mentioned, she loves meat. When we have steak for dinner or go to a buffet, I get stressed out (and hungry) because I feel like I'm spending the whole time cutting up meat for her, and it's still never fast enough. Her carnivorous character is only strengthened by the fact that her front tooth is chipped, thus giving her teeth a jagged, almost sharklike appearance. I adore her smile.
She has a really vivid imagination. Occasionally she'll bid me farewell with a dismissive "bye Mommy!" When I ask where she's going, she'll tell me, "Georgia. Bike race. Bears." She has a whole scenario in mind.
She's a really wonderful baby sister. I've especially enjoyed watching her relationship with her 3-year-old sister Piper. Though she's fiercely independent, she also enjoys being a follower, and sometimes she and her sister walk around our house holding hands and immersed in some kind of pretend play. "Hideout" is one of her favorite words because she absolutely loves building forts and hideouts with her siblings.
Depending on what she's doing when you see her, you'll either say "She is all girl!" or "She is 100% tomboy." She really just enjoys all of life, whether she's requesting that we help her ride her bike on ramps or if she's begging me to paint her nails. No matter what she does, she's all in, and she kind of demands that you join her.
She has acquired knowledge of the English language quite quickly. She has yet to meet a word that has enough syllables to intimidate her. We laugh all day long at the adorable things she says, "oh my goodness!" probably being our favorite.
She has a very commanding presence. When Goopy tells you to do something, you obey. One of our friends was watching her in the nursery and said he felt bad that he gave her so many animal crackers, but he couldn't really help it. I understood completely. Even her most dramatic siblings don't put up a fight when she takes something from them. Even yesterday she told me, "Change diaper and then go outside, okay?" and I said "Okay" and we did, then I realized that she totally just determined our schedule! It's hard to say no to her.
That said, she is really learning to obey. She's seen her siblings get disciplined, so she knows life will go best for her if she refrains from rebellious choices. When she's fussy I can threaten her with a nap and it actually works; either she'll be cheerful for another hour or she'll agree she needs a nap. I've never had a kid do that before.
She eats food really fast. The pincher-finger stage was quite short and she's been grabbing food by the fistfuls or enormous spoonfuls for quite some time now. When I give the kids half-cookies from Publix while I'm shopping, it can last them most of the shopping trip, but Goopy's cookie is usually gone by the time I've put the first item in my cart.
She really loves her daddy. I wonder if it's because she was formula-fed so the snuggles were a lot more shared and we don't have quite as much of a biological connection. Maybe it's because Peter gets softer with each kid and he spoils her lavishly. Maybe it's because she's basically a clone of my husband's personality. Either way, she really loves him, and I love how special their relationship is.
Well, that's just scratching the surface in an attempt to describe my lovely little Evey. I wrote about her on her last birthday as I do for all my kids, and it was crazy how similar that post was to this one. Her personality is so strong that so many of her defining characteristics were evident even before her first birthday. I dream big for this girl and love her with all of my heart. I go to sleep grateful each night that God would give me another day being her mom. Happy birthday, Goop.
The questions have started coming. The Trader Joe's cashier. Extended family members. The dental hygenist (while she was cleaning my teeth.) People are curious when they see a five-year-old out on a Tuesday morning or when they hear I'm about to have four kids and they're unsure how my children's education will work out logistically. They've heard the homeschool horror stories of neglected kids or overly-sheltered kids, or the unbelievable success stories of families who sent six kids to college before the age of 12. But what does homeschooling for normal people look like?
Different for everybody! As for me, a super-disorganized ENFP with imaginative, strong-willed children who like to think abstractly? At the preschool and kindergarten level, I take a 95% "unschooling"/"carschooling"/"lifeschooling" approach. I see all of life as education. We do a ton of field trips, we involve our kids in as much real-life stuff as we can, and we strongly encourage question-asking. I've checked the "things my preschooler/kindergartener is supposed to know" lists and, aside from some reading-skill expectations that I find unhelpful for 5-year-olds anyway, my kids can do anything they're supposed to be able to do in school...and it's not even possible to calculate everything else they're learning from playing in dirt and starting their own business and reading all our books and simply living real life.
The other 5%, our formal homeschool time, is what I want to share here. If you feel like homeschooling is impossible for you, come to my house and see what a mess I am, and you might be convinced that you can make it work for you too. We don't use desks and we almost never use worksheets. I generally don't do any prep beforehand. Doable is more important to me right now than desirable. I might want to do a lot more for my homeschool, but what's most important is what we actually end up accomplishing with consistency!
I try to initiate formal homeschool four times a week. It takes about an hour. I've bought, researched, and even made my own curricula, but I've found an eclectic approach to be much more effective for our family.
I included links and prices for everything because homeschooling doesn't have to break the bank, but I didn't use affiliate links because I want you all to know my recommendations are genuine!
Now let's talk about the subjects!
I let my three-year-old ring a service bell to start school. Then I set up the one-year-old with some Legos and we jump into their least favorite subject to get it out of the way!
My son and I suffered through about 40 lessons into the top recommended teach-your-child-to-read book, but it made him hate reading. My main goal is for him to love reading, not for him to be able to read by a certain age. So reading books together is really the best thing I can do for him. But in our formal homeschool time, we typically use My First Banagrams tiles ($15.) My three-year-old's job is to find the letters I ask of her (I often let her pick which word we're trying to spell.) I then give my five-year-old a word, and his job is to sound it out slowly and figure out what letters he needs. Then I'll switch out individual letters (pool/cool/tool/fool/drool) and he learns how to read them.
To help their handwriting, occasionally I'll get a sheet of paper and use a highlighter to write the words I want them to practice. They can trace over my words with their pens before they try them on their own. I've been amazed at how well they can do this after we take long breaks from practicing. Ditching the books to develop fine motor skills in other ways (like playing in dirt or doing art) is surprisingly helpful!
The one-year-old usually ends up wandering around the house, so I just try to make sure the doors are closed. Homeschool always goes best when the littlest is napping, but that only happens if I'm willing to sacrifice my midday alone-time. I'm usually not ;)
Next is the kids' favorite subject: American sign language! I taught myself some sign language and spent consistent time in the deaf community for a couple years when I was single, so I have a bit of an advantage in passing along the signs to my little people. But ASL is so easy because most of the signs make sense, so really anyone can do this.
I use signing primer cards I found at a yard sale ($5.90 on B&N.) The kids learn three new signs a day and we review about twenty. The kids absolutely love it. Every few days I ditch the cards and the kids and I work on sign language to a song. They struggle a little bit with getting their tiny fingers to cooperate, but they amaze me with their focus, recollection, and accuracy. We'll figure out grammar at some point (and hopefully we can make some deaf friends!) but till then we can build, build, build our vocab!
When I was in school I knew how to test well and get good grades, but science is one of those subjects that I never really understood. The textbooks just didn't click with me. As an adult, sitting on the dirt outside or listening to my husband describe his mechanical endeavors---seeing science actually happen---is the most beneficial way to learn. However, we need to learn from books too, so I've found Usborne books to be extremely helpful. Unfortunately, they're expensive ($12-15 each), but I consider them quite a worthy investment and I've been able to find many of the books used and cheap on ThriftBooks. The information is presented clearly, accessibly, and beautifully, with helpful diagrams and lift-the-flaps and all kinds of ways to interact with the material. And remember, these are not textbooks that are thrown away after one child uses them; we reuse these books again and again for many different ages.
Doing experiments is, of course, hugely helpful in teaching your kids about science. Pinterest is an overwhelming resource for that. But I prefer experiments that add no extra stress or cleanup to my day; when explaining the digestive system, I can feed them corn and we can discuss the path it takes through their body, then watch how long it takes to, you know, digest it. When discussing chemical and physical change, we can make cookies. When studying insect biology, we can grab our magnifying glass and look at a bug.
But for the book-reading, we just pick a topic that interests us and read as much about it as we can for awhile.
We use an abacus ($11) primarily. I take turns with the kids asking them math equations, and they move the beads to solve them. I can ask my 5-year-old, "What's eight divided by two?" and in an instant he can figure out for himself why the answer is "four." It works great for their ages.
This is my favorite subject, and the kids really love it too. I bought the Tapestry of Grace primer curriculum a couple years ago (it's about $100 for the curriculum itself---most of it is reusable for multiple kids---and it took $200+ more to buy all the books they recommend; most of them were used from Thriftbooks. You can get most of them for free from the library, but I like to be able to access them all the time. The kids often choose a book about Abraham Lincoln or ancient Egyptians for their bedtime story!)
Though Tapestry of Grace curriculum was great, my diligence was not, so I ended up shedding most of the prep work and just reading the recommended books...and more. We read non-fiction and historical fiction, encyclopedias, atlases, and picture books. Building our family library is one of the best investments we could make, especially since these books are not for particular grade levels but to be benefited from by everyone. They're diverse in content, length, artwork, and format, and we can always expand our topical database temporarily through the library.
So we just walk through world history and geography and soak up as much information as we can. A couple years ago my son pointed to somewhere random on the globe and said "What wars happened here?" and that taught me so much about capitalizing on curiosity! (I also need to learn these things for myself so I can teach them, ha!)
(This is separate from family devotions or scripture memory time; I can talk about that in another post.)
I like to finish the homeschool session by opening up a Bible storying cloth ($10) that I bought a decade ago from the International Mission Board. Missionaries sometimes use storying cloths to teach the Bible, especially to illiterate people, so it's extremely helpful for children. From Genesis to Revelation, simple pictures offer us glimpses into the story of God. I give each of the kids a turn to choose a picture and tell me the story that happened there. My 5-year-old, ever a theologian, likes to add his own commentary and ask his sister follow-up questions (which she doesn't exactly appreciate.) I then let them choose a picture story for me to tell them, and I try to tell them every detail I can remember along with some commentary on how that story points to Jesus and how it affects us today.
This is really great for their listening skills and teaching skills. When they share the story, they're learning to be more effective communicators.
And that's it for our formal time! Outside of our designated "homeschool time", we do art (SO much art), read a lot of books, develop life skills as they help me with my tasks or observe my husband, play outside, etc. It's messy and frustrating and I oftentimes have to take a break in the middle of school to discipline a child or just because something else comes up...but that's okay! Real life is messy and imperfect and God gives grace upon grace upon grace.
So that's how we do homeschool, for now. I'm sure more formal time and bookwork will come as my kids get older, but for now it's as interactive and extremely easy for me to implement :)
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My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a former skater dude, and raising little people ages 5, 3, 1, and not-yet-born. I like lime green and sarsaparilla, and I wear my Crocs until they melt. (Florida problems.)
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Articles I've Written on Other Sites:
Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today