Short Lessons or Why We Do Almost Everything Twice!

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Short Lessons Charlotte Mason


This past summer I did a bunch of reading on various educational approaches. Partly because I find that kind of thing interesting, and partly because I am ALWAYS having to tweak my approach to allow for bigger kids, noisier toddlers, more extra-curricular activities or less patience or something on my part.

One of the educators I read was Charlotte Mason and (while I think that like most of the educational theorists of her time she was rather optimistic in her understanding of how children acquire knowledge) I did find her idea of the “short lesson” rather intriguing.

I have a short attention span and find working at the same subject for forty minutes quite tiring and when I realized that in a forty minute “math” period we were actually only getting thirty minutes of work done due to the afore-mentioned toddlers etc. it seemed logical to give “short lessons” a shot.

This is what our morning is supposed to look like:

Morning Schedule / Rhythm

Time Minutes Task T W T F J and M
7:30 10 Rosary
7:40 10 1 page copywork Stickers/Cutting
7:50 20 Maps for one chapter SOTW Color /Spelling
8:10 20 French (Big 2) W Reading and Spelling With Me
8:30 30 Math Sensorial
9:00 10 Break – snack and five minutes of movement Break
9:10 20 Latin one worksheet ?(or Memory) Sensorial
9:30 20 Science- work on outline ?(W Spelling/Call) With Me
9:50 20 History -oral review or outline Provocation
10:10 20 Break: Snack and ten- fifteen minutes of movement Break
10:30 30 Math Sensorial
11:00 20 Science Outline Math
11:20 20 History Maps or Outline Snack
11:40 20 Clean -up and Jobs Clean-up

I have checkboxes for each day we do school and scheduled activities for the younger two, so that they aren’t lost and wandering around causing chaos (they do anyway but pre-planning helps quite a bit).

I print one copy of this for each of the big three with their weekly assignments on the other side. Buggle and Mouse’s look like this:

Assignments for the Week March 27-31, ?2017

Subject Mon ?27 Tues ??28 Wednesday ?29 Thursday ?30 Friday ??31
Morning Time
Latin Chant CD

Review Chapter 10

Chant CD

Review Chapter 10

Chant CD


Chant CD
Science Notebook/


At Nap time

Perch Dissection Write-Up Perch Dissection Write-up Go over and correct Falcon and Perch Papers Paper corrections
Flashcards everyday
Chant CD

Chapitre 8 and 9

Chant CD

Chapitre 10 and 11

Chant CD

Chapitre 12 and 13

Chant CD

Chapitre 14 and 15

Math As marked As marked As marked
Essay Maps and Outline Maps and Outline Maps and Outline
History Notebook/


SOTW 31-33 History from the library History from the library Finish Maps during Naptime

And Bull’s looks like this:

Assignments for the week of March 27-31, 2017

Subject Mon ?27 Tues ??28 Wednesday 29 Thursday ?30 Friday ??31
Morning Time

Memory, Copywork,

Science Notebook/


Review Latin w/Mom through Chap 15 Latin Vocabulary and CD, Homework


Latin Vocabulary and CD, Homework


Latin Vocabulary and CD


Nature Study




R 16, 17

P 16,17

C 5

R 18,19

P 18,19

C 5

R 20,21

P 20,21

C 5

R 22,23

P 22,23

C 5

History Notebook Update your notebook Update your notebook Update your notebook
History Reading SOTW 31,32,33 History books from the library History books from the library
Math Khan Academy Khan Academy Life of Fred


Khan Academy

I also print a full set for myself so I have place to keep track of what went well, what didn’t, who had meltdowns over what, and so on.

Then I make liberal use of the timer on my phone, setting it for the length of the lesson, and giving everyone a minute or two to finish their thought or current problem at the end of the period. ?I announce the lesson, tell the children who I’m working with, and try hard not to answer questions from anyone else. They work on lessons with me or independently and simply pick up where they last left off.

I’ve had to tweak things a bit as we often don’t really get started until 7:45 (fifteen minutes “late”) and it took me a bit to figure out how long was really reasonable for certain subjects (which determines whether or not they get two periods or one).

In general, the system works pretty smoothly. The children usually feel like they are making forward progress and this helps them want to make more progress. Even in rough weeks, I don’t worry too much as I know that we can simply pick up and do a bit more at the next period and get back on track.

I’ve also found that presenting material in one period, and then practicing it a few periods later helps with retention as the facts have gotten the chance to move out of short term memory while the children were thinking about something else.

It’s not a perfect system, but it works fairly well for us, and has definitely made our school days more pleasant and more effective.


Charlotte Mason short lessons



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I’m Glad Convention Season is Coming!

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Finishing strong



The last few weeks have been rough! Time change, sick littles, a major reorganization project in order to give the biggest boy his own room (which meant turning the schoolroom into the master bedroom, moving school to the main floor (where we mostly did school anyway since the toddler and schoolroom weren’t very compatible)). Change and perceived uncertainty nearly always produce a behavioral response and we’ve been battling bad attitudes and dawdling every day.

I’m tired. And I’m counting the days left for co-op meetings and our swim and gym class as I want to be done with school and know that having the day and half that those (good) activities take will do much towards moving us along to the finish line! Understand that I love those activities. I love the opportunity to teach youngsters who aren’t my own. I love watching the dynamics of a class come together and seeing kids turn into a team. But I am tired and I want to be finished. Some days I want to be finished with homeschooling altogether.

Thankfully convention season is coming and along with the anticipated event itself come the blog posts promoting different speakers and products.

Now, I’m not terribly fond of promoting things on blogs or reading blogs that do a bunch of sales and promotions. I think that doing a lot of salesmanship and promotion tends to makes recommendations unreliable. Personally I do one bit of promotion every year – for the Home Educators Association of Virginia’s Convention because I have been attending that convention for many years and find it extremely helpful and encouraging.


I’m glad to see at least some of the promotional stuff filling my newsfeed- because it helps to keep me going in this last bit of winter school. I keep a running list during the year of my ideas for next year or things that I think would be fun if we could fit them in. ?As new curricula pop up I read reviews and try to figure out if they would fill a hole or enable us to do more learning across the whole family. Seeing other people excited about what’s coming up helps me to also be encouraged and excited about finishing this year’s main work, doing some fun things over the summer, and jumping back in in the fall.

Here are some things I’m thinking about:

Summer 2017

Typing for the three eldest using Typing Without Tears Online over the summer. Typing is a skill that they will use all their lives and getting it into their muscle memory will make them faster and more accurate over the long run. I am also seeing some places where typing instead of handwriting things would remove a level of frustration for at least one of my students, but we don’t really have time for typing lessons during the school year.

Math Everyone continues with about 30 minutes of math over the summer- either with MEP or with Khan Academy. The children get rusty otherwise and it is a good mental discipline.

Art I bought the full set of See the Light??Art Lessons a few years ago and while we’ve done some of them on sick days, I haven’t been able to work them into our daily routine. I’m working out a schedule to complete the series this summer as some basic drawing skills will really help the children with their science and history studies in the fall.

Nature Study Winter in New England isn’t the best time for nature study and journaling so I’ll be adding that into our daily/weekly routines as well. We have some wonderful nature journals and coloring books that can be used as field guides if colored properly and I’m thinking to put together a “naturalist’s field bag” to carry in the car, along with our extra clothes (because you never know where you’ll find a creek to wade in) and other summer gear.

I’m also working on lining up crafting and other making opportunities (treehouse in the backyard finally!) and a couple of day camps for each of the children. My aim is to put together a fun and stimulating summer that will have us ready to jump back into academics in the fall!


Finish Strong Pinterest


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Easy, Gentle Writing Lessons For Young Students

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Gentle easy writing lessons

The two subjects that seem to strike the most fear in the hearts of homeschool parents are math and writing! There is tremendous pressure to have students perform well in these two subjects and parents often feel that they, themselves are inadequate mathematicians and writers. How are they supposed to teach what they don’t actually know?

There are numerous approaches to both subjects but I would like to look particularly at the teaching of writing skills in the next several weeks (and will perhaps look at math skills at a later date).


Writing is Communication

Every time a student puts pencil to paper or fingers to keyboard they are preparing to communicate something. It may be simple math facts or a complex argument about world economies but the purpose of written language is to enable different people to read, comprehend, and internalize (learn) information. Even imaginative fiction communicates information as authors seek to explore the human spirit and discover whether the setting or shared human nature determines the actions of the characters. This communicative nature of the written word means that we should first look at how children verbally communicate before asking them to add the skills of writing, spelling, and composition to the process.


Verbal communication sets the stage for later written communication

Long before a child puts pencil to paper they are already assembling the tools needed to be a successful writer! When the excited toddler runs up crying ” Baby, fall!” she is telling a story and communicating a narrative although she needs to add to her vocabulary and understanding of grammar. When parents respond to this “story” with their own communication, “What happened? Did you bump your head?” they are helping her begin to understand how to assemble a narrative.

Similarly when preschool aged children begin the (often wearying) series of “why” questions, the way that parents answer can help them begin to understand how to logically explain something. Not only do parents need to ask “Why do you think …..?” but they also need to ask questions of their child in order to encourage them to move logically from the facts they know to the facts they can infer.

Throughout the early years children not only need to be exposed to good verbal communication in many forms- read aloud books, stories told aloud, conversation, and answered questions they also need to be encouraged to make their own narratives with such questions as “Tell me about your day.” “What game are you playing?” and so on.

Parents should also note that they are modeling communication when they speak with their children directly and when the children are listening to adult conversation and many of the strengths and weaknesses they observe will be imitated.

Formal Narration For Five to Seven Year Olds

Once the children have started learning to read and write the question of getting them to write down their answers and learn how to construct paragraphs and coherent narratives naturally arises in the parent’s mind. Writing is clearly a good partner to reading and the child is given many opportunities to record his or her answers to questions, or to record experiences in written form. Often times tears and frustration on the parts of all parties are the result and the parent is led to conclude “my child can’t write”.

You are correct. ?Your child probably can’t write. They can tell you a narrative of some kind but they have not yet become comfortable with all that goes into writing down their narrative and they are not ?ready to be set before a blank piece of paper and bidden “Write.”

As with all other subjects the place to begin is with what the child already knows and can do. Formalizing and strengthening existing skills will lead naturally to their growth in new areas. Formal narration is the first step to strong writing.

In the beginning I like to include some action with the narration. I find that providing the child with pieces to help the story along and “jog” his memory leads naturally to drawing parts of the story and then writing them down. As you can see I write all along and gradually hand off more and more of the writing to the child.

The Three Billy Goats Gruff


I like to begin with a familiar story. The Three Billy Goats Gruff is ideal since it contains both a clear flow from beginning to end, and is repetitive enough to allow the child to practice getting all the details into a story without having to learn multiple sets of details.

I give the child (this is Bull at five years old) a tray with some props for the story- green felt for grass, blue felt for the stream, a block bridge, Lego figure for the troll, and three goats from our collection of animals.

I then tell the story, marching the goats across the bridge and bringing the troll up at the appropriate times.

Afterwards I restore all the figures to original position and ask the student to tell the story. Sometimes he needs some prompting, but other times the action of marching the figures to and fro helps to remind him of the important actions and flow of the narrative.

Then we put the tray away.

The next day, I ask him to tell me the story again, but this time I write down the first part of the story. We repeat the story telling with my writing until the whole story has been written down for him to read. ?I like to do this in a “story writing” journal that has space for the student to draw pictures.

We may repeat this step with several stories, until he is comfortable with telling a story with several parts, or if this has gone smoothly we may move on.

Writing Things Down On Their Own

Once the narrate back to Mom, Mom writes things down, and the student reads it back and illustrates it has become a smooth process, we are ready to introduce the idea of doing the writing himself.

As additional preparation for this step, I have the student spend time practicing handwriting and will often take oral answers to questions in other subjects, write the answers in highlighter in his book and have the student trace the answer.

Now when he listens to me tell a story or read something simple aloud I will ask him to write down one thing that he thinks is important or remembers. I don’t worry if he comes up with something that isn’t actually that important (learning to listen well is a related but different skill), I just want him to give me something that he heard and remembers, even if it is only one word.

At this point I either don’t worry too much about spelling, or simply spell the words for him. I’ll start asking for sentences instead of words and model the kinds of answers that are complete sentences by repeating and elaborating on what he has said:

“Who was Daniel Boone?”

“A trapper.”

“What else did he do? Why do we remember him?”

“He explored the wilderness.”

“So put those things into a sentence. Daniel Boone….”

“Daniel Boone was a trapper who explored the wilderness.”

“Now let’s write that in your notebook, do you need me to spell anything?”

By the end of the early elementary years, the student has usually gotten impatient with waiting for me to spell things and will take the pencil and attempt the work himself. This is satisfactory for an early elementary grade student and we will build on it in the next few years until he is comfortably composing and writing several paragraphs at a time.

A Note on Corrections and Grading

In the early years, I only give a grade or keep a record of completion of assignments. I don’t take points for bad spelling, or grammar mistakes (capitalization, punctuation etc.). I will erase and have students correct the mistakes.

I do make students do work over if it is deliberately messily done. I also don’t accept papers that have doodles on them as I feel like part of the point of the assignment is to learn to do work that is pleasing to the eye as well as expressing the thought.


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Kitchen Kids: Bull Makes Pasta Sauce

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Since Bull is only seven he’s not quite as adept in the kitchen as the older children. He still loves to cook though, so Tuesday nights have been designated as the time for the little boys to assist with making dinner while the big kids are at choir practice.

I try to concentrate on having them each prepare one dish: Bull usually does some component of the main dish while Jack is working on perfecting his salad making and roll shaping skills.

The Menu:

  • Pasta with Tomato Sauce
  • Salad
  • Rolls

The Recipes:

Pasta Sauce:

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 T oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 T parsley
  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes

Fry the meat until brown, drain fat (I usually do this as I’m not sure he has the dexterity to handle a hot pan and a spoonful of hot fat), and stir in the spices. Add the can of tomato and turn to low heat and let simmer until ready to serve. Makes enough for a pound to a pound and half of pasta.


1 head of iceberg or romaine (I prefer iceberg for a new salad maker as it’s easier to break)

1 cucumber (he peels it with the potato peeler, I cut it in half longways so it won’t roll, and he slices it)


We add other vegetables (in the winter usually radishes and carrots) as we have them, my grocery list usually just says “salad stuff” and I buy whatever is on sale that week.


The children just form the rolls from the dough that S or I have made up ahead of time.?I will probably teach one of the big children how to do this step sometime this spring.

The Results:

Bull is able to cook the sauce by himself, with me in the kitchen to make sure he is observing safety rules. I’m trying to teach him to pay attention to things like where his pot handle is while he’s frying meat, and to work on measuring accurately and clean up after himself by putting his spices away as he uses them. He is starting a notebook with recipes that he can make written down in them, which he thinks is really neat.

Pasta with tomato sauce is always popular here so I’m looking forward to having another cook who can make it!





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Kitchen Kids: Mouse Cooks Honey Mustard Chicken

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This January when I sat down to do some planning for the next semester I decided that I needed to just schedule some things that I kept aspiring to but never accomplishing!

One of these was to have the children help in the kitchen more and particularly to get the older actually cooking a meal on a regular basis. ?When I made my menus, I planned with that goal in mind scheduling one big kid to cook supper each Wednesday.

In the past I’ve tried to have someone help every night and have quickly stopped having anyone help due to the quarreling over whose night was whose etc. This new schedule of having the little boys help on Tuesdays when the bigger two are at choir practice and one big kid cook on Wednesday has worked much better. I get one day to cook myself (Monday), Thursday is for leftovers, and S cooks Friday (he’s better at fish and vegetarian cooking than I am) and on the weekends (as has been our practice since marriage).

I’m trying to have the older children cook the same two meals for several months and build up a repertoire of meals they can prepare from start to finish. Their birthdays are coming and I am planning to give them special notebooks to use for recording their recipes.

Two weeks ago Mouse had the chance to cook Honey Mustard Chicken…


The Menu:

  • Honey Mustard Chicken
  • Green Beans
  • Rice
  • Salad

The Recipes:

Honey Mustard Chicken:


  • Four Chicken Leg Quarters- thawed
  • Spicy Homemade Honey Mustard (basically something on the heat level of Grey Poupon, mixed about half and half with brown sugar or honey)
  • Brown Sugar
  • White Vinegar
  • Salt

Mix together 1/4 cup mustard, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 3 tsp salt, and 2 T white vinegar. Place the chicken in a glass baking dish. Pour the mixture over and turn the pieces of chicken several times to coat them well. ?Bake at 375? F for 35-45 minutes or until browned outside and fork tender.

Green Beans:


  • 2 Pounds frozen cut green beans
  • Several cloves of garlic
  • Enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a heavy skillet
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Pour olive oil into a heavy skillet and heat over medium heat, add slivers of pealed garlic and stir until the garlic is fragrant. Add the frozen green beans and stir until they are well coated with oil and garlic. Add a 1/2 to 3/4 cup of water, cover and turn down to low heat. Cook until tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

The Results:



Mouse fixed the whole meal, with very little input from me. I checked in with her from time to time, to make sure she was keeping the project moving along, and stood by to assist while she made the green beans as it was a new technique for her. She took a good bit longer than I would have but supper was only about 15 minutes late so that wasn’t too bad.

This is always a popular meal round here. The children make “sushi” by wrapping bits of chicken skin around rice and vegetables. ?All of the chicken, rice and salad was eaten and enough green beans were left to make a nice snack for Daisy the next day.

I will have her make this meal again to improve her speed and technique.






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Working The Plan: January 23-28, 2017

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This week is already off to a different start since the toddler woke up with a fever this morning…

Thankfully my lessons for co-op were all planned and ready and one of the other teachers was able to cover my classes.

It was a very different feeling to drop the four older children off and come home with the toddler!

She did sleep for about 45 minutes and I was able to print some of next week’s Biology lesson for co-op and spend about thirty minutes cleaning in the basement.

Meals This Week:

I am really happy with my menu plan! I’ve planned out several months, with a few goals in mind:

  • Use the crockpot on co-op day (Monday) so that dinner is half cooked when we get home around 1. This frees me up at evening chore time to do a few things to set us up for the rest of the school week
  • Have the Little Boys (7 and 4.5) help with cooking dinner on Tuesdays while the older two are at choir. I’ve planned meals that have components that they can cook or give major assistance on, and I try to plan my day to have extra time to have them in the kitchen with me
  • On Wednesdays one of the older two cooks dinner. Main dish and a couple of sides. My goal here is to have each of them develop a repertoire of meals that they know how to cook from start to finish.
  • Thursdays we eat “creatively recombined meals” (leftovers!). I try to leave the fridge clear for S since he cooks on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday

January’s menu looks like this:



Tasks To Accomplish:

I try to keep this to 10-15 distinct items, as that seems to be what’s actually doable…

  1. Make sure we do our Four Rooms a Day Cleaning Rotation! We’ve slipped a bit on this since Christmas and I need to make sure we really are doing the tasks and I’m really inspecting them!
  2. Clean the basement: it got rather messy over the break and I need to pack up a bunch of stuff that is just being scattered instead of used. I made some progress on that today but I need to do another 2-3 thirty minute stints down there
  3. Cut out Mouse’s dress for Irish Dance
  4. Make a CD for French practice
  5. Finish doing the printing for the next couple of weeks of school and co-op
  6. Write discussion questions for Middle School Sunday School/CCD
  7. Email my mother
  8. Think about a rotation for snacks and breakfasts- the children are always wanting to eat something and I’m somewhat out of ideas
  9. Finish one book from my reading list- probably the one on Montessori for Parents
  10. Write three blog posts for the Home Educators Association of Virginia blog
  11. Work on teaching Bull how to do blog graphics
  12. Have Buggle take apart a chair that I need to fix
  13. Email someone about participating in their upcoming series of articles on special needs topics
  14. ?Fill in the blank…
  15. Fill in one more blank!


The big two will finish their French book this week, except for the end of book review. We’ll put that off for six weeks or so and concentrate on learning the vocabulary and grammar really well, using the CD that accompanies the book.

Bull has hit the point in reading and phonics where we can double up on lessons without his comprehension suffering. He also has only 36 lessons left in his MEP?and is eager to finish as he has been given a choice of doing Life of Fred or Khan Academy for the rest of the school year.

The weather is supposed to be crummy- ice, sleet, wet snow, and cold so I expect we will do some extra lessons to free up the days of nicer weather!

That’s it for me!

What do you have planned and will you accomplish it?

Play along in the comments or on Facebook!



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Binders for Morning Time

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This school year we’ve started having Morning Time several days a week as a way to start our day. I had read about the concept but hadn’t really seen how to use it in our homeschool until I realized that it could be the place for all of the “little” things that tend to fall off of the end of the school day (or get pushed off by fussy toddlers and preschoolers).


What are those things?

Catechism and Religious Instruction

History Maps

Music and Hymn Study

Memory Work

Handwriting and Copywork

None of these are long lessons, in fact, with the exception of map work they are merely ten or fifteen minutes long. They do require a number of different sets of material though so I needed to find a way to keep things organized without needing to have a bunch of school materials downstairs.

Enter the “Morning Time Binder”!

The big kids have had three ring binders with pockets and zippers for several years.?We’ve usually used them for math, and any subject with worksheets that weren’t bound in a book.

This year I split the math out into it’s own binders (one for each kid) and found that Science and History each needed their own binders too! ?The old zipper binders were just sitting in the cupboard and I decided that they would be perfect for our Morning Time work.



Each binder got a set of tabs:


These are really nice ones- heavy duty plastic, with a clear page so that it’s easy to see what’s in each section.

Hymn is the songs we are learning this year, all pre-printed and in order. I also have a set in my binder.

Saints is a short biography with a coloring page for half a dozen saints I want the children to learn about this year. As they are colored we take them out and put them into the appropriate section of their History binders (divided by quarter century).

Copywork is their handwriting. This year is Bull’s First Communion Year so everyone is copying out the Baltimore Catechism for First Communion. They write a page every day while I read from our religious studies books for the year.


Chant is a coloring book for learning Gregorian Chant. We haven’t made much progress with this yet, but it will be taking a more prominent spot in the routine once we finish some other subjects.

Memory is a collection of poems that I printed and they are memorizing.

The children illustrate the poems as an aid to memorization.

The children illustrate the poems as an aid to memorization.

The binders stay in a drawer in the dining room, along with our read aloud books. The children all know that they are supposed to come to the table after breakfast is cleared away with pencils and their binders, ready to work together.

I bring my own binder, some activities for the toddler and preschooler, and our maps for the week. While the first 45 minutes of school is not always peaceful due to attitudes and sometimes hard to settle little ones, the binders mean that the children who are ready to be diligent know what to do next if I am occupied.

Morning Time has given us a wonderful opportunity to learn to work as a group, for the good of all.



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The Busy Toddler and the Sensory Bin

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Lately we’ve been doing school around the dining room table instead of in the schoolroom. We begin around the table with our Morning Time stuff – decade of the Rosary, copywork while I read from one of the books we’re studying for Catechism, Memory Work and Recitation, Maps for History, and whatever hymn we’re learning.

This resulted in the bin being put away!

This resulted in the bin being put away!


Often by the time we’ve gotten through that first forty minutes the busy toddler has settled herself to some occupation and as I’m not comfortable with her being downstairs by herself it seems easier to just send the children to get their books from upstairs and keep working where we are.

One of the occupations that Daisy really enjoys right now is her “sensory bin”. It’s nothing fancy. A large, plastic bin that I put some kind of material in that’s fun to scoop and pour. I include a bunch of empty cups from yogurt, some spoons, and a handful of small toys.


Better use of the sensory bin.

Better use of the sensory bin.

A few weeks ago I had a couple of boxes of cornflakes that had been opened but never eaten before the weather turned cold. Into the bin they went to be scooped, tasted, crushed and stirred. I included a selection of small earth moving trucks and Daisy and Jack were quite happy to spend a good bit of time moving “rocks” around the bin.



Of course, sensory bins can really make a mess!

I have a few tricks for keeping things reasonably under control:

  • Put the bin on the floor in the middle of a full size cotton sheet. The material that ends up on the sheet can just be dumped back in
  • Be very firm about throwing, flinging etc. – I typically give one reminder and then put the bin away for the day. Usually that kind of play means she’s begun to lose interest anyway.
  • Sitting in the bin is also not allowed. ?The materials tend to stick to her clothes and end up all over the house.
  • Keep the materials to things like beans, rice, etc. which don’t tend to stick to her hands. When she’s bigger I’ll probably give her flour and rolled oats to play in but right now she doesn’t have the motor control to keep from spilling them on the sheet and then tracking them around.
  • Have her help clean up the spills, it’s part of the learning process!

With these guidelines in place I can generally count on the bin keeping her busy for twenty minutes or so, which is just enough time for me to teach someone bigger a lesson.

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Sick Days (or how to keep things going while nursing the sickies)

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This is a sick Bull. He spent two days this week lying on the couch completely out of energy and loudness.

It was so very quiet around here!

I must admit I enjoyed the quiet and calm, but I would have wished for another cause.


I started thinking about how I handle sick days, especially when Buggle succumbed as well and I was without two of my main helpers at once!

  • Let some things go- for me that’s mostly laundry since Bull handles the washing and drying and we can afford to get a bit behind with that job but not with the dishwasher and kitchen counters which are Buggle’s responsibility. After two days I have four or five loads to run, fold and put away but the boys are feeling better and if we all tackle it it won’t take long.
  • Keep the sick person resting as much as possible- I move them from couch, to recliner, to bed and give them plenty of comfy blankets and pillows to lean on. They can drowse or read (or sometimes watch a show or play a game on the Kindle if they’ve been sick for many days and are too bored to rest but too sick to get up and about)
  • Encourage the other children to offer kindnesses- being a bit quieter so the sick kid can rest, giving them a special animal to snuggle, bringing them books to read, or drinks and snacks as appropriate. Serving as they would like to be served.
  • Everyone picks up a bit of the sick person’s slack- this is a good chance to see if a child is ready to be promoted to a different set of responsibilities by giving them a practice run
  • Keep things running as close to normally as possible for the rest of the crew- I’m always tempted to let things all go slack when one kid is sick, but we all really do better if I relax the schedule slightly but try to keep things moving for the rest of the children. Anything that requires all the children gets put aside but otherwise we just continue with lessons and the sick child either listens and learns or spends time reading and resting.
  • Reading- Since much of our history work at this point consists of reading biographies, histories, and historical novels I encourage sick children to work on the week’s history reading assignment. For one thing they tend to stay more cheerful if they don’t have sick days filled with entertainment and self gratification and for another their willingness and ability to read history is a good gauge of how sick they are.
  • “If you are well enough to play, you are well enough to work.”- I learned this from my sister?and it’s a great test. When the sick kid is feeling well enough to abandon the couch, I give an easy job as a test of their ability to be off the couch and get along with others, follow rules and so on. If they set up a loud wailing and whining or drag through the task, I know they aren’t really ready to get up and send them back for more rest.

Altogether I keep things as simple as possible and figure we’ll sort out the messes that accumulate around the edges once all my helpers are back up to their regular energy levels.

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The Tasks That Smooth My Days

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“Tis the season of activities! Lessons, co-op, soccer for two, dance for four, church, Sunday School…. I’m tired just typing the list! The busyness of the schedule feels chaotic and the days spin by on their own until I don’t know which end is up. Somehow I need to bring sanity to it all.


Sanity has to start with me. When the children are whirling through the house unsettledly, I can’t calm things effectively unless I am calm and settled myself. So I make a point of taking the 5-10 minutes I need to settle my own spirit. I let everyone stay and extra fifteen minutes in their quiet time spaces so I can have an afternoon cup of tea and I try hard to place things around the house to remind me to parent calmly and gently.


Some times of day are harder. Lunch time, the end of afternoon playtime, when we transition from outdoors to in and play to work, the evening when tired, hungry toddlers and preschoolers can no longer cope…these times act as triggers for yelling, fussing, tantruming, and impatience for Mom and children alike. Here I need to be intentional and proactive.

I write the afternoon’s jobs on the board before I call the children in. I try to make sure they’ve at least eaten an apple sometime between lunch and afternoon jobs. I plan to keep the grumpiest children close by and let service dispel the self-centered disappointment over the end of playtime.



I work ahead too, trying to do some chunk of my housework or dinner prep at times when the children are happily occupied. Often this means that dinner prep is done in spurts, a bit while I’m making lunch (meat taken out to thaw or something put in the crockpot), another little bit while I’m making my afternoon cup of tea (it’s amazing how much I can do in the seven minutes it takes the kettle to boil!).

I’ve let go of the concept of working at a large task until it’s done. For one thing that method doesn’t work well with my highly distractible brain, and for another I rarely get more than twenty minutes to work at something. Instead I keep a running list of projects and pick a couple to work on each day. ?Ten-twenty minutes of concentrated work can actually accomplish quite a lot and I don’t feel as if my task is never ending.

I keep a running “to-do” list and remind myself that it is a RUNNING list. I expect to cross off a few things and add a few things and that’s OK. Some weeks I cross off a great number of small tasks and some weeks….I don’t, but having the list frees me from having to remember all that needs to be done.

I try hard to notice the moments of calm, even when they only last for sixty seconds and to point them out to the children. If we don’t recognize calmness and peace, then we don’t know what we are working towards and I find it all too easy for the chaos moments to run right over the peaceful ones, obliterating them from our memories.

These practical steps and intentional attitude adjustments keep us going, and little by little we reclaim the crazy moments as moments of living fully.

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