Nature Journaling

I’m starting a blog post mini-series on what homeschooling looks like in our home. I hope this gives you a bit of an idea of how our days are spent, and how delightful learning at home can be!

Today we spent Β much of the afternoon working on our nature journals. We’ve been reading the Burgess Bird Book for Children for the Natural History component of Year 1 and it has been a great delight. What I’ve appreciated the most about this book is how it makes us pay attention to the habits of birds – do they fly smoothly, or do they fly in a way that makes them look like a rabbit hopping through the sky? Are they neat and tidy, or messy homemakers? Why do some woodpeckers spend so much time on the ground instead of in trees?

This afternoon James painted a picture of a red-headed woodpecker.

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And June coloured a picture of a red-headed woodpecker. (She goes for colourful rather than accurate in her pictures and it drives her brother crazy!!)

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And I painted a picture of a northern flicker. James pointed one out to me the other day – it landed on the Douglas fir tree right next to the patio and we admired it with wide eyes (it’s quite lovely with that startling red bit on the back of its head!) for a few seconds before it noticed us and flew off. I don’t have an original bone in my body when it comes to art, so I focus on copying paintings or photographs found online. It’s working well so far.

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God’s Abundant Provision

Things have changed substantially since my last blog post about Alice’s second birthday. We’ve moved to West Kelowna, Jeremy’s prepping for his first year as a teacher, and James started Year 1 of Ambleside Online!

Looking at each of those items, one at a time . . .

First, the move. When Jeremy accepted his teaching position in Kelowna, we gave notice to our landlord and agreed to move out July 31st. And then we began looking for a home in Kelowna, which turned out to be much more difficult than we’d anticipated. Well, there are actually a fair number of homes for rent, but the cost to rent out just the main floor of a home is astronomical! So we scoured Craigslist, Kijiji and Castanet daily in our hunt for a small home at a reasonable price.

The first place we came across was a cute little home in downtown Kelowna. It turned out to be a scam; the guy had copied pictures from an active MLS listing and was pressuring us to send money ASAP to “secure our rental” (i.e., fill his pocket). The second place was a three-bedroom main floor in Vernon. It was on a busy street, and the back yard wasn’t totally fenced, and it would have been a 45 minute drive to work for Jeremy – but the price was okay. We hummed and hawed and slept on it overnight, but by the time we emailed the landlord back, she’d already rented the place to someone else! And then we came across a third place that looked like it might work. The price was good, but the home, half of a duplex, was tiny . . . maybe 900 square feet. It did have three bedrooms, though, and it had a tiny yard. We drove out from Fruitvale to take a look at it, and toured the place with about five other people who were also interested. It turns out there was actually another suite tucked in below the duplex that was rented out to a student, and I imagined our children running around at 6am . . . And then we waited on pins and needles to hear back. A week or so later we got a text message saying the duplex had been rented to someone else.

We were devastated. The duplex had been far from ideal, with its cramped quarters and negligible backyard, but it was nearing the end of July and we had to be out of our Fruitvale home and now we had no place to move to! We began to consider alternative arrangements. Perhaps the kids and I could move in with mom and dad for a month, while Jeremy camped in Kelowna and got started on school prep work. We could look around for a home, Jeremy could pop in for a walk through, and we could move in around the first of September. It wasn’t ideal, but it could work. (Plus the kids were overjoyed at the thought of living with Grandpa and Grandma for a WHOLE MONTH!)

Throughout this whole time, Jeremy and I had been praying constantly. Despite being in the early weeks of my pregnancy and easily able to sleep eleven hours a night, I woke up one morning at 4:30am with a strong urge to pray. I prayed and prayed. I went to work that day and prayed desperately on my breaks. Our housing situation was constantly on my mind, but I was also constantly bringing it before the throne of God. We asked our families to pray for us. I asked some friends to pray for us. I asked saints (like Saint Ann and Saint Joseph) to pray for us, as well. I imagined Joseph leading Mary to Bethlehem when she was pregnant with the Lord Jesus, and then desperately looking for a place for them to stay.

And then we found an ad for a home for rent in West Kelowna. A whole home. With a good-sized fenced yard. For the same rent we were paying in Fruitvale! Jeremy called the property manager and happened to be the first person to leave a message. But the property manager had left messages with several people who had posted wanted ads on Castanet, so she said she would get back to us. Then she let us know that a couple had toured the home, and she expected to rent the place to them. And then we waited for a couple days as she waited to hear back from them.

On July 28, three days before we were supposed to move, we got a call from the property manager saying the other couple had passed on the place, and it was ours if we wanted it. She explained that it had a deck, and that our kids could fall off of it. That the basement bedroom might not be comfortable enough for a child to sleep in. That parts of the basement were unfinished. That there was no dishwasher.

We said, “WHO CARES!!!! We’ll take it!!!!” (We haven’t had a dishwasher in five years, anyways. What’s another year?)

And we moved in August 1st. Our new home is twice the size of our Fruitvale home. The yard is dead because of the dry summer, but there’s plenty of space for the kids to run around. The street is quiet, and the neighbour across the road said the other day that she loves hearing the kids play outside. “They sure sing a lot!” she commented cheerfully.

We are still basking in the unexpected surprise of God giving us so much more than we’d asked for. A huge home! A lovely deck outside! A good-sized yard! I’ll post some pictures of our new place another time, but suffice it to say we are more than happy with this place. It is temporary, till the end of March (or possibly June), but it gives us time to get used to the area and look around at where we’d like to live in the future.

Some photos! Here are James and Jeremy, about to embark on their trip to Harmon Lake a few days after we moved in. James was thrilled he was allowed to come along!

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We’re now only three hours away from the Fraser Valley and we’ve had a bunch of visitors already. Definitely easy to get used to that!

June holding Everly. πŸ™‚

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Second, the job. Last year, when Jeremy decided not to go into the ministry, we thought it would be best if I worked for a year so we could think for a while about the best career path for Jeremy. There were several options . . . going back into woodworking, purchasing a landscaping franchise, or going into teaching. Last September, we decided to spend the month praying about what Jeremy should do for work, and by the end of the month he felt that he ought to go into teaching. My parents were visiting around that time, and as Jeremy and my dad were walking down the road in Fruitvale, some random child hollered at Jeremy, “Hey old guy, are you a teacher??”

From that time on, then, we looked around for teaching opportunities. Jeremy and I have both been drawn to classical education and when Jeremy thought about where he’d like to teach, he immediately thought a classical school – preferably, a Catholic classical school. Well, those are awfully scarce in Canada. There are a couple (mostly elementary schools) in Ontario, but none in western Canada. And so we began to look into getting a green card so Jeremy could work in the USA. That turned out to be a much longer process than either of us had predicted (9+ months wait to see if you’re approved for applying for a visa, more like 15+ months to actually get the visa). So while we found a number of fascinating schools in the USA that would be a dream to work at (here’s looking at you, Gregory the Great Academy) in the end those were not realistic. By the time we realized that, it was late spring.

Around that time, my dad had a vision of sorts in which he saw two things: the Bible, and Jeremy paddling in a canoe. Both of these were in reference to a job for Jeremy. We were puzzled. The Bible was pretty obvious, but where in the world could Jeremy find a job that involved a canoe?

He ended up applying for a restricted teaching license in BC, and looked around for teaching positions at Catholic schools in BC. There were a couple available and he applied for them, but none seemed like the right thing and weΒ were beginning to get desperate as the months ticked by. I had said I would work for a year, and as June 1 of this year rolled around, my heart despaired. Would there be a teaching position that Jeremy would be qualified for? If so, would a school hire him despite his lack of experience? What if nothing came up? What ought our Plan B to be? Would I be able to homeschool James for first grade? Where did this canoe fit into the picture?

We began looking at other ways Jeremy could use his Master of Divinity degree. He applied for a Youth Coordinator position at a Catholic church in the Lower Mainland. He applied for a Spiritual Director position at a retirement home. He applied for a Building and Yard Maintenance position at a home for special needs adults. He applied for a woodworking job, for a site maintenance job at a mini storage facility. He applied for a Forest Ranger position. And we prayed over and over for guidance, direction and for the right job to fall into Jeremy’s hands.

In June, Jeremy prayed a novena (a nine-day prayer) asking Saint Joseph to pray for a job for him, and the day after he finished it, a lady at church thought Alice looked so cute toddling out of church she just had to give her a church bulletin to carry (we didn’t often get one). Alice happily carried it to the van, and later that day we perused it. There was a job posting inside for a teaching position in Kelowna – a position for a high school religion teacher at a Catholic school! I immediately popped onto the computer and applied on Jeremy’s behalf. He got a phone call shortly thereafter and an interview was set up. The interview came and went. Jeremy didn’t think it had gone that well. We waited a bit longer.

And then the principal of Immaculata Regional High School called back and offered Jeremy the job! And Jeremy accepted it! He called me at work and feigned a disappointed attitude. My heart plummeted. And he told me he got the job! It was one of the best phone calls of my life, and I could barely contain my excitement at work. It was difficult to go back into the labour room without dancing all about the room for joy!

Last week, Jeremy was explaining to me that he’s not just the Religious Studies teacher, he also is the Religious Coordinator. That means he has to organize Masses at the school, Β as well as teacher retreats and student retreats . . . and he has to go on the student retreats, too. It turns out the senior class retreat has already been planned. Guess what one of the recreational activities is on this trip? Canoeing.

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Hiking the Bear Creek Canyon Rim last week:

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And last but not least! Homeschooling!

I have wanted to homeschool ever since James was born. Even before he was born, actually. I started reading homeschooling books when James was a baby and they reinforced the reasons why homeschooling can be great for a family – tailoring a child’s education to their strengths, giving children more time to learn concepts that are difficult for them, being able to focus on what is true, good and beautiful instead of what makes you most suited to a particular job. About two years ago I came across Ambleside Online and thought it was pretty much a perfect fit. It is full of rich literature, but it also includes classical music, beautiful paintings, nature study and plenty of free outdoor play.

James and I completed a light kindergarten year last year. He learned how to read. He began to understand basic math. And we read so many good stories together! I had a miscarriage in January, and began working full-time in April, so school slid to a halt this past spring. And that was just fine. James and June played outside almost all day, and that was so good for both of them!

Two weeks ago I dropped off my little treasures at my parents’ place for several days so that I could finish up our homeschool plans for the year.

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And then on August 14th, James started first grade!!!

We started by sorting out some household tasks. James now makes breakfast (oatmeal) for us on school mornings. He is very, very pleased to have this responsibility and he does a careful job.

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Math games:

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Copywork. June loves being close by when we do school, and she enjoys playing Upwords and other games while we’re busy.

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Reading practice:

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Our handicraft this semester is loom knitting. James is knitting a toque for the baby expected in March. He’d very much like it to be a boy, so he’s knitting a blue toque. πŸ™‚ We’re finding this to be a perfect beginner handicraft. It’s varied enough to remain interesting, and it’s simple enough not to be frustrating. I got the loom on amazon and found the bulky yarn at Michaels.

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So here is what a week of school looks like in our home. I’ve divided our day up into sections. We all do Bible & Breakfast together (prayers, questions about the day/date, Bible or religious readings and some songs), and we do Tea Time together with all the kids, too. Ambleside Online recommends reading books slowly over a whole term (12 weeks) or even over a whole year. So we’re slowly working our way through several books. Some are history books (Our Island Story), some are geography-based stories (Paddle to the Sea), some are nature books (Burgess Bird Book) and others are simply literature (Aesops’s Fables, Blue Fairy Book and Just So Stories). So far, they are wonderful and rich and we are thoroughly enjoying them!

During Alice’s nap time, James and I do math together, as well as some copywork and reading practice. In the afternoons we get some housework done, listen to some music, practise our handicrafts and do some drawing. So far, this is working well for us!

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A number of the local hikes have been closed due to the forest fire risk. That’s been very disappointing as we’ve driven around looking for little nature walks to go on! This past week we ended up at the Gellatly Nut Farm where we walked through the nut orchards and took a dip in Okanagan Lake. James thinks this should be our back up plan every week. πŸ™‚

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We’ve been finishing the last of the Lord of the Rings trilogy this week, and just read the bit where the ring is destroyed in Mount Doom. The joy! The delight! James could hardly contain himself! He’s been bouncing around on the trampoline in delight for some time, celebrating.

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And, last photo of the post. This morning we had a lovely weekend breakfast treat: cinnamon roll ragamuffins. They’re like cinnamon buns, except they don’t have any yeast and so they don’t require any time to rise. Quick, and so delicious!!! Even better when paired with a chai tea latte. πŸ™‚

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A Homeschool Beginning

Around the time James was born, Jeremy and I began discussing the possibility of homeschooling our children. As we talked, we discovered that we were both drawn to a classical form of education. For me, this was born from having read C.S. Lewis’s autobiography, Surprised by Joy. Lewis had a classical education and when you read his books you quickly realize just how deep is his knowledge of the great works of literature. There’s this cozy familiarity, this love, of good and wonderful stories, poems and works of philosophy. I wanted that for my children, and God, in his great goodness, gave me a husband who also desired that for his kids!

And last month, we got started! So here’s what homeschooling looks like for us these days. Every weekday morning, James, June and I have Tea Time together. This is a time for us to pray, read and discuss a part of the Bible, sing beautiful hymns and recite some lovely poetry together. We usually end Tea Time by reading a book aloud on the couch. We just finished reading Pinocchio last week; if you’ve only ever read the Disney version, the original by Carlo Collodi is so much darker, deeper and more wonderful. James loved it! Now we’re reading Up One Pair of Stairs, which is part of the My Book House series. We’re really enjoying it, too. June flits in and out of the room as we read, but James is captivated.

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One of the stories in Up One Pair of Stairs is called The Owl’s Answer to Tommy and it tells the tale of a lazy boy who asks an owl where he might find a brownie (a house elf who’d do household chores while the family slept) to do his chores for him. The owl ends up telling him, “All children are brownies.” James looked at me with huge eyes when I read that part of the story. And then the other morning Jeremy left early for school and James was the first of the rest of us to arise from bed. When we joined him downstairs, he proudly told me he’d been a little brownie and swept the floor and tidied up his all his toys. (I just wanted to squish him hearing that!)

The other part of homeschooling involves teaching James to read. He has been ready for reading for some time, but I hadn’t found a curriculum that I was happy with. We’d tried two books (Teach a Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, Alpha Phonics), but they share a similar problem: they sneak in words that don’t follow the rules, and don’t explain the exceptions.

For example, the book would say, “Have the child read the following words” and then would follow a list like so:
mat
bin
hat
pat
ban
has

Can you spot the problem with that list? Well, if you are teaching James that “S” says “ssssss” and you come to “has”, he will pronounce it “hassss” and no amount of “well, in this situation it actually says ‘zzzz'” will make him change the pronunciation. And no wonder! We all like rules that are consistent!

So, anyways, after much frustration and much internet research, I finally found an absolutely excellent program called Logic of English that teaches children to read in a logical, step by step manner, explaining everything. It’s been a godsend. It’s thorough, the explanations are clear and logical, and it slowly builds on what has already been learned.

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We work through one lesson a day, and that lesson involves a number of things:
– phonogram practice, that is, saying all the sounds of a letter. For example, A has three sounds: ah, ay and aw. Ah as in mat, ay as in table, aw as in father. And S has two sounds: ssss and zzzz! πŸ™‚ (If you have an iPad or an iPhone, there is a really helpful app for phonogram practice that only costs $2.99.)
– blending sounds
– handwriting practice
– spelling words
– reading

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I lean more towards being a no frills kind of teacher, but sometimes I forget that James is just four years old. And four-year olds love to have fun, right? πŸ™‚ So we do the silly games suggested in the textbook: reading a word, then acting it out – run, jump, spin, etc. Or the phonogram march game, where if James says the phonogram sounds correctly he gets to take one giant step and if he gets it wrong he gets sent back to the beginning. So dramatic and thrilling!

The handwriting portion was pretty frustrating in the beginning, but in the last few days something has really clicked and James is making great strides in his writing. We are actually teaching him cursive first as you can see (if you’re wondering why, here’s a very helpful explanation.). James wrote his first word in cursive the other day: dad! πŸ™‚

I think part of the reason for tying reading with writing is that actually writing out the letter helps kids to really know that letter. James used to mix up his Bs and Ds quite regularly, but since he’s started writing Ds he rarely mixes them up anymore.

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Okay, seriously, look at those letters! Aren’t they grand? I’m so proud of him! πŸ™‚

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One thing I wasn’t really expecting was how tenderly James would respond to different forms of praise. The book had suggested having James write several letters at a time and then putting a star beside the best one. James’s heart nearly burst when I wrote a little star beside one of his letters, he was just so pleased with it. Today he was so tickled with a star I gave him he wanted to give me a sun in return. He named the bigger sun James and the littler sun June. πŸ™‚

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So, that is what homeschooling looks like for us right now: Tea Time in the morning, a reading lesson during June’s nap and reading lots of books aloud. It’s pretty low-key and James is loving it so far.

A New Blog, Hurrah!

The Upcast Eye has sadly reached the end of its short little life (may it rest in peace). It reached its max photo capacity and seeing as I’m too stingy to fork out $99/year to upgrade to more memory, I’m just going ahead with a brand new blog instead. It’s going to be an amalgamation of The Upcast Eye and Arenda Reads – but confusedly retaining the name The Upcast Eye.

Anyways, you, dear reader, can expect to read updates on life in Darlington Manor with all its quirks and joys and pains, with sundry photos sprinkled throughout the posts, as well as some quotes from my commonplace journal and thoughts on books I’ve read.

And because I’ve been thinking about the point of education lately (we’re gently easing into homeschooling this year), here’s your first quote from the venerable John Milton:

“The end then of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as we may the nearest by possessing our souls of true virtue, which being united to the heavenly grace of faith makes up the highest perfection.”