Travels in Middle Earth

This week I wrapped up a three-month stay in Middle Earth. My literature class at our homeschool co-op finished reading last travelogueweek and took an exam on Tuesday.

Part of our time involved a “travelogue,” a book I made for each of them with spaces for jotting down notes on all the characters and themes that appear in the books. The names can be daunting for someone who’s never come across them before, so I wanted them to have a “cheat sheet” of their own making to help along the way.

Despite some initial moaning, the students took to the book like ducks to water. I was so pleased with the class discussions we had about eucatastrophe and Biblical allusions. I only wish we had more time — once a week is so little.

It comes home again and again: if a piece is well-written and truthful in theme, children (or in this case, young men and women) will surprise you with their abilities to comprehend the transcendent truths therein. We should, as parents and educators, have faith in that ability. It has been a privilege to watch this group of students explore Middle Earth this year.

Cutting Myself a Break: Sabbath Schooling

The second week of October meant fall break in our home. I went into the older boys’ room that Sunday night to say goodnight to them, and I said in feigned excitement, “FALL BREAK!!” My secondborn rolled over and said sarcastically, “Fall break?! You mean CHORE BONANZA.”

(I may have had some other things planned for them that week.)

But until last year, I didn’t have a regular fall break. I mostly planned our school schedule around the public school schedule. I did all my planning in the last month of summer, ordered books, and hoped and prayed all the organization would work well when school came around. I made decisions in August for the following spring.

In some ways, this is unavoidable. I had to order books and decide on curriculum when I had the time to evaluate in the summer. But in other ways, it just wasn’t working.

I found myself scrambling to keep up week-to-week with both school and home. Weekends were already full — I didn’t need to be making last-minute decisions about field trips and extras then. I couldn’t keep up with the needed grading and make decisions based on student progress.

It felt like we just hit the gas pedal in mid-August and kept going until Christmas, at which point I was so worn out that I couldn’t think to make critical decisions. So we’d just keep our heads down and barrel through til the end of the year.

Then I read an article in Home Educating Families entitled “Sabbath Schooling.” I admit I rolled my eyes at the title — another homeschool family trying to insert sacred meaning where there is none, I thought* — but the concept intrigued me.

Families who “sabbath school” commit six weeks to school and then take a full week off. That one week is allowed for rest. For those pesky doctor’s appointments that can torpedo a whole morning of schoolwork. For car maintenance. And for, as my children found out this time around,  seasonal chores and work around the house.

More than anything, I use this time to work on our homeschool. Before we started this schedule, I planned around the public school timeline — but I didn’t have those in-service days. Those days are allowed — nay, even REQUIRED — for teachers to plan and properly execute a year’s worth of teaching. I was expecting myself to just get it done without giving myself the time to do it well.

Fall Break 2014. Red door.

Fall Break 2014.
Red door.

So now I’m regularly cutting myself a break. I am requiring myself to have some in-services. Every six or seven weeks — I’m not a Pharisee about it  — we stop for a week. For the first two or three days of that week, we don’t touch school. On my most recent break, I painted our front door red on my first day. What a nice feeling to get a little project out of the way and checked off my list.

In the short time that I’ve had this schedule, I’ve found it much more effective, and I’m doing a lot less pulling my hair out. Stopping and evaluating our progress every six weeks gives me a chance to check where we’ve been. I can catch up on grading and assess who needs attention in an area. I plan for the next block of weeks, order library books we need, plan for movies we’d like to watch, and put a field trip or two on the calendar. I also find that my energy is better. I get excited about what we’re about to study when I have the time to read through my resources and study up myself.

For those of you who are considering homeschool in the future, or are doing it now but are burnt out, may I gently suggest knowing your limits better than I did? I have been so grateful for our schedule these past two years. Having a week ahead to count on makes the time in between far more productive.

*I have issues. I get that.

Some Mornings are Like That

Monday was one of those magical mornings in our homeschool. They seem to happen more often lately. There were years that I felt like I was constantly putting out fires; now the kids help keep our momentum going and the mornings go more smoothly.


Monday was…

the windows open to hear the rain and the birds

the oldest two boys reading more Robert Frost poetry

the middle one getting caught up in The Wind in the Willows and reading all morning

the youngest two beginning When We Were Very Young

connections to things we’ve talked about, places we’ve been

laughing over shared memories

Then there are the days when the pencils are all missing or broken, attitudes are terrible (including my own), papers are missing, the math software is malfunctioning, and the toilet gets clogged. When those mornings happen, I pull out from my heart a memory of peaceful rainy days with great books, and ponder it for a moment. It helps.

A Song for Monday

We’re studying modern history this year in school. There are so many great missionary stories to be explored; this week, we begin with Eric Liddell. Later on we’ll get to Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, and others.

They inspire us…to keep on.


Why We Pursue Knowledge –  “But what if education—what if learning and thinking and knowing—is less about what you do with your knowledge than it is about the person you become in the process? What if education is first and foremost about becoming image bearers?”

Alison’s Thrifted Makeover – I really enjoyed this series by the Nester on a little makeover she did for a friend. Summer is always the time that I start rolling over ideas for changing up the house.

Proper Introductions: Summer Suggestions – Lanier has some ideas of what you might want to read this summer. She always has a unique list. Plus her new puppy is named Bonnie Blue — how cute is that?!



Stand Up and Get the Tissues Ready: I’m sure you’ve seen this by now, but in case you haven’t, here’s a beautiful spontaneous rendition of the national anthem from a choir conference.

If you are interested in Charlotte Mason education, the Childlight blog is a nice place to start. Here’s a good article from the last month called A First-Time Mother’s Perspective.

My wise friend Michelle wrote this article that I posted to the memorial site this week: How to Walk with a Friend in Grief (hint: it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and there is no finish line)

I’ve been taking in a lot of Rabbit Room artists over the last two weeks. You should probably just stick an IV in my arm and hook me up to Rabbit Room radio. Here’s one that will make you laugh, Andy Gullahorn’s “Skinny Jeans.”


A little truth and encouragement for homeschool peeps: Everyone wants to quit in November and February

How do you decide what to keep reading and what to put down? Pushing Through

Middle School sweetness:  Groom’s middle-school love letter on display at couple’s wedding