Looking Back: Our 2017-2018 Homeschool Year

Our subjects for the past year included: biographies, art, Bible, composers, copywork, foreign language, free reading, geography, handicrafts, history, literature, math, music, natural history, nature study, picture study, poetry, reading, recitation and timeline. We used Ambleside Online as our curriculum, and you can head on over there to read all about Year 1!

Here’s how things went with all those subjects this past year . . .

American/Canadian History Biography: we read a number of delightful biographies this past year. We read D’Aulaire’s Buffalo Bill and Columbus as free reads, and then I scheduled in Cartier Sails the St. Lawrence for our third term. I’ve only just recently figured out what I’m doing, big picture-wise, with Canadian history, and I added this book in before I sorted that out – and it was a flop. Cartier Sails the St. Lawrence is a lengthy picture book with lovely language, quotations from Cartier’s own journals, and compelling illustrations – but half of it sailed over James’s head. I’d recommend it for Year 3 or Year 4 students instead.

Art: We tried some art instruction this past year, but it was crushing to my little perfectionist student, so we left it alone. He enjoys free-hand work (treasure maps, drawing pictures for his aunts’/uncles’/cousins’ birthday cards) but has a really difficult time drawing things he sees or finds in nature.

Bible: we read a Bible story 4-5 times a week. We used the Dore Bible Illustrations book as a guide, and covered many, many OT stories. We also regularly read the Bible after supper as part of our family devotions. This year, we read through Revelation, Maccabees and the gospel of Mark.

Composer: our favourite composer study this year was Handel’s Messiah. We listened to it over Advent using Genie Shaw’s Awaiting the Messiah e-book – I heartily recommend this resource! We listened to our daily selection, and then the kids would ask for their favourite pieces. June loved “For He is Like a Refiner’s Fire” (so passionate!), and James loved “All We Like Sheep Have Gone Astray” and “Glory to God.” A few months late, I still caught them singing little snippets. We also listened to some selections by Dvorak in Terms 2 and 3. Maybe I’ll have to get back into listening to classical music at dinner time, because without a set time I find it’s something that easily gets skipped.

Copywork: For copywork, I chose poems or selections of beautiful and/or interesting passages from James’s school readings, and he copied one line a day. While this was never his favourite part of the day, I did see progress in neatness and accuracy over the school year. Hurrah!

Foreign language: we studied French this year. To be honest, I don’t like the sound of the French language and was not very enthusiastic about learning it, and looking back I’m afraid that showed. We started out using the French with Miss Mason book, and did not get far. The audio tracks did not work well for us, and my pronunciation is too poor to repeat the series without guidance. We also tried The ULAT (online video series), but the verb conjugations totally confused James. So we settled for listening to and learning some French songs. We’ll be switching to Dutch next year and I’m very, very excited! My parents are Dutch and I grew up hearing them speak the language to one another, so at least I know how it’s supposed to sound. There aren’t a lot of resources out there, but James will at least be able to practice by chatting with his grandparents via FaceTime!

Free Reading: reading together remains one of our favourite things to do! I really appreciate the AO selection of free reads; we loved each and every one of the books from their list! Over the course of the school year we read:

Peter Pan by JM Barrie
King of the Golden River by John Ruskin
The Red Fairy Book by Arthur Lang
The Grey Fairy Book by Arthur Lang
St. George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Pocahontas by the D’Aulaires
Redwall, Mossflower, and Outcast of Redwall by Brian Jacques
My Book House #6
Buffalo Bill, Columbus, and Pocahontas by the D’Aulaires
And lately we’ve begun reading Greek Myths by the D’Aulaires which is very entertaining. And of course we’ve read many, many picture books as well.

Geography: we read Paddle to the Sea and mapped Paddle’s journey through the Great Lakes. I found James’s narrations of the events in Paddle mediocre, but he seemed to really enjoy thinking about Paddle’s journey as a whole, and the Great Lakes are like familiar faces on maps now. 🙂

Handicrafts: James knit two toques in the first term, and he made a potholder on our potholder loom during our second term. And since Leo was born, we’ve focused more on household chores, like unpacking the dishwasher, emptying the recycling bin, and vacuuming.

History (early history from 55BC – 1066AD): one of my favourite parts of homeschooling this past year was reading the wonderfully descriptive and moving stories of saints in Britain from Our Island Saints. What a beautiful book, and what beautiful, holy men and women! We also read about world history from Our Island Story (chapters 1-21), Fifty Famous Stories Retold (nearly all the stories) and Viking Tales (first half). James narrated these stories well.

Literature: we read many Aesop’s Fables, four plays from Shakespeare (Lamb’s children’s version), several stories from the Blue Fairy Book, and most of Kipling’s Just So Stories. James LOVED Just So Stories! He howled while I read them and gave very dramatic retellings afterwards, and often asked if I could read the stories again. We also read two stories from Parables of Nature, which he also really enjoyed. Excellent narrations.

Math: we got half way through Right Start Level B before switching to Math-U-See. Switching was a good choice for us! Math-U-See really emphasizes place value and it’s been great to see James understand that concept better. On the recommendation of someone on the AO forum, I also purchased an Extreme Dot to Dot book; these books have puzzles with 600-1200 dots. James loves these and will chant the numbers aloud as he connects the dots: “One hundred ninety-eight, one hundred ninety-nine, TWO HUNDRED! Mom, I’m at two hundred already!” These puzzles have helped him develop a stronger number sense, improve his understanding of place value, and have helped him recognize some of the number reversals he was making.

Music Appreciation: we learned a new folksong every month. I really didn’t like how using YouTube videos for our folksongs became a crutch; we didn’t really sing the songs unless we were singing along to the music. We’ll have to figure out a better way to sing the songs independently next year. We also learned several new psalms and hymns. I started a routine where we sing one psalm and one hymn before we eat breakfast, and that worked really well; we rarely missed a day!

Natural History: we read James Herriot’s Treasury, as well as many stories from the Burgess Bird Book. James will sometimes perch on the couch and watch birds from the living room window and narrate their activities to me. He was very ticked off to find robins eating cherries from our cherry tree; “Robins. That’s why they have their name! They’re ROBBing us of our cherries!”

Nature Study: our structured nature study was quite often pushed to the side this past year because I didn’t have a vehicle, and because of all the snow, and because of the newest member of our family being born; but, on the upside, the kids loved seeing what was going on in our new backyard this past spring. They’d dash inside saying, “Mom, the rose bush is blooming! Come see!” or “The first little cherry is on the tree!” James drew some pictures of birds this year that corresponded with our Burgess Bird Book readings. He also drew a few things he found/saw in nature. Mostly he got really, really frustrated with his drawings not matching his expectations.

Picture Study: we studied the paintings of Peter Paul Rubens, Winslow Homer and the gorgeous paintings and sculptures of Michelangelo. We also read Michelangelo by Diane Stanley. I loved picture study this past year! One of my favourite school activities!

Poetry: we read a poem daily. We read RL Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, Now We Are Six by AA Milne; and many poems from Favourite Poems Old and New edited by Helen Ferris.

Reading Practice: For the first half of the year we used the McGuffey Eclectic Readers (lovely books from the late 1800s that begin with simple stories and increase in complexity) for James’s reading practice. They’re a bit preachy at times, but they’re also wholesome and fairly interesting. This past term James started reading various books from our shelves aloud to me, like The Boxcar Children, Billy and Blaze, and The Adventures of Tim. And just recently he’s become interested in reading for pleasure and I’ll sometimes find him on his bed, perusing a book from his bookshelf. (As an avid reader, I’ve been waiting for this moment!) Books he’s enjoyed so far include easy readers like Owl at Home and Sam the Minuteman, and some more complex books like The Book of Indians by Holling and Trolls by the D’Aulaires.

Recitation: James learned a good number of poems off by heart this year – mostly ones I wasn’t trying to teach him. He especially loves the poetry in Farjeon’s Kings and Queens and Heroes and Heroines, and can be heard waltzing around saying, “Henry was a wild lad, fond of fun and fooling / When he was the Prince of Wales he made a hash of schooling” and then adding little asides about how he is also wild and fond of fun and fooling. Ha! I’m looking forward to reading those poems next year as we dive into British history after the Norman invasion. James also learned several parables by heart and was able to recite them clearly.

Timeline: we made every-other-weekly entries in James’s timeline binder. He did not enjoy the extra copywork, and I did not enjoy the timeline being tucked away in his binder; I’d prefer it to be out in the open where we can see it regularly. Still trying to decide where to put it . . .

Overall, it was a pretty great year! I’m really looking forward to what Year 2 has to offer!


A Homeschool Day in the Life (with a 6-, 4- and 2-year old)

This is a little snapshot of what our days look like these days, a little time capsule of sorts to look back on in years ahead. 🙂

0530: Jeremy usually leaves for school between 0630 and 0700, but today it’s a Thursday, so he leaves early to go to Adoration, then continues on to school afterwards.

0600-0730: the kids are usually up sometime between 0600 and 0730, but they play pretty quietly on their own for the first hour of the day. I haven’t been able to fall asleep until the wee hours many nights (thank you, restless legs/pregnancy insomnia), so they know I’m not going to be up at the same time as them. They do pop in and out of my room during this time for the settling of disputes and other urgent matters.

0730-0800: my usual wake-up/get up time these days. I usually say some quiet prayers in bed before getting dressed and greeting the day.

0830: we make some muffins. We’ve got a pretty solid weekday breakfast routine going on here. We have oatmeal (made by James) on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; German pancakes on Tuesdays; and muffins on Thursdays. This was a Thursday, so we whipped up some blueberry muffins (you can find my favourite recipe over at Once Upon a Chef) and boiled eggs.

Day in the Life

While the muffins baked, James asked if he could do a math worksheet, so I printed one from Math Fact Cafe. He is ALL about math worksheets these days. And about scoring 100%.

Day in the Life-2

Finally ready for brekkie! We added some tea to the mix seeing as a bunch of us have got sore throats today . . . And yes, June LOVES to choose her own colourful outfits, matching or otherwise. She often helps Alice get dressed in the morning, too. 🙂

Day in the Life-3

During breakfast we read through or review a chapter from the New Saint Joseph First Communion Catechism. It has a Q+A format with illustrations the kids love to look at over and over. And then we read the Bible story that corresponds to an illustration in the Dore Bible Illustration book and James narrates it. I’m really liking this strategy – the Dore Bible Illustration book has gorgeous, classic illustrations and we can read out of whichever Bible we happen to have on hand (currently the NASB). The kids love paging through this book after breakfast, too and asking questions about dramatic pictures (the children who mocked Elisha getting eaten by bears, etc.).

Day in the Life-6

Day in the Life-8

If the kids are still eating, we also read through some of our other religious readings like Our Island Saints (stories of holy people in the days when Christianity was just coming to Great Britain) or The King of the Golden City (sort of a Catholic version of The Pilgrim’s Progress, meant for children preparing for their First Holy Communion).

Today day we read through a bit of The King of the Golden City. Dilecta (the main character) gives in to Self and her Lamp of Peace (a special gift from the King) goes out for the first time. The kids were very absorbed in the story, and June noted “the Lamp of Peace is getting a bit dim” a bunch of times during some squabbles later in the afternoon. 🙂

Garbage truck rumbles by and everything else is put on pause for a moment:

Day in the Life-9

1000 – the kids disperse and play while I tidy up the kitchen and check my email.

1030 – we walk to the mailbox and the kids play outside for a bit. Notice the kazoo in James’s mouth: “It’s a way of announcing my joy to the world, mom!” Haha!


1100ish – Alice goes down for a nap. She’s getting to that awkward point where she can skip a nap occasionally, and sometimes it takes her a while to fall asleep . . . but quitting her naps right before the baby is born sounds like trouble to me, so we’re persisting for now. Also, look at her snuggle her new dollie, Mimi! Grandma gave her the doll a week or two ago and they’re constant companions. 🙂

Day in the Life-10

1130 – we usually start school a bit after Alice goes down for her nap, but today James and June are rambunctious, so I send them back outside to play for a while. James happily honks his kazoo out there. I get some lunch prepped while the kids play.

1200 – school begins. We read some stories (Aesop’s Fables and The Burgess Bird Book today) and James tells them back to me. Then James completes his copywork, does some reading practice and solves some math problems.

Day in the Life-11

Day in the Life-13

Day in the Life-12

Day in the Life-14

Day in the Life-15

1300 – Alice is usually up from her nap around this time, so we wrap up our lessons, have some lunch and listen to our folk song, French song and a selection of classical music from our term’s composer, Antonin Dvorak.

Day in the Life-16

Day in the Life-17

Alice is two (in case you were wondering), and she loves to show off her muscles. 🙂

Day in the Life-20

Day in the Life-21

1330 – our afternoons are usually unstructured. The kids go play outside for a while, or, if it’s cold out, they play in their rooms or the living room while I do a bit of tidying and get some laundry started. Sometimes I end up spending a lot of time reading about homeschooling online; other times I rest, or read a bit, or do some baking. Today I took care of switching over our bills to our new address in anticipation of moving.

1430 – James’s friend across the street usually comes home from school around this time and the boys often play together. Today the girls and I snuggled on the couch and read some books while the boys played outside.

Day in the Life-18


1530 – the neighbour boy goes home, and the girls head outside. James comes to the door every ten minutes or so to share with me what he’s been up to. I get a bit of reading in.

Day in the Life-22

Day in the Life-19

This book by Cardinal Sarah is AMAZING! He is a humble, insightful, prayerful man with a fascinating story of growing up in the back forty of Africa.

Day in the Life-23

I could underline half of the book – like this quote from Georges Bernanos.

Day in the Life-24

1600 – the kids play indoors.

Day in the Life-25

They’ve been playing church quite often lately (here they’re both are holding up the crucifix while processing into church).


1630 – dinner prep. Jeremy stayed late at school today, and attended a play in the evening so he wasn’t home for dinner (very unusual). So James helped a bit with dinner, and then we said some prayers together as the Lamp of Peace was flickering very, very low.


1730 – dinner time


1815 to 1900 – Jeremy usually reads fairy tales (from the Red Fairy Book or My Book House) to the kids after dinner, or chats with them about their days, or plays a game with them. Today the kids were falling apart because of their sore throats and coughs, so I brought them to bed early.

1900 to 1930 – we usually bring the kids to bed.

1930 till I go to bed – I’m usually rather worn out by this time, so I often take a bath, sometimes listen to an audiobook or watch a show, chat with Jeremy and then head to bed. And get ready to repeat it all the next day! 🙂

Year 1, Term 1 Exam Week

We wrapped up the first of our three terms in Year 1 with an Exam Week. Rather than reading new chapters in our books, we spent the week reviewing what we’d learned up to this point. I explained our exam week to James like this: “We’re going to take some time this week to think back on stories, poems, and pictures we’ve read and studied over the past couple months. This will help you see how much you’ve learned already, it will help you remember things for a long time, and it will help me know what things need to be adjusted in our home school.”

I was a little nervous that James might not remember many details, especially from stories read early in the term. And while there were some sighs of frustration over the difficulty of remembering things from long ago, overall the exam week went well.

Here are a few highlights.

We read stories from the Old Testament this past term: the creation of the world, the fall into sin, the story of Noah and the ark, Moses and the burning bush, the entry into Canaan, and a few stories from the book of Judges.

Tell your favourite Bible story so far.
James: Samson was a very strong man. And he had big muscles… just like Mr. N. (our weight-lifting neighbour). And then he went down to the Philistines. And he saw a lady there and he wanted her as his wife. He went back to his mom and dad and said, “Get me that girl.” And they said, “No, no, no. That’s one of the uncircumcised or unbaptized Philistine’s daughters.” They said, “Fine we’ll go.” And so they went. Though it was because the Lord had a plan. And then they said, “Here’s the girl that you wanted.” And then he married her. And he killed a lion and ripped it open with his bare hands. Then when he turned, it was full of bees and there was honey. And so then he went to the Philistines and said, “Here’s a riddle. Out of the eater comes something to eat. Out of the strong comes something sweet. I will give you three days to answer it, and if you cannot answer it in those three days, you shall give me thirty royal garments, though if you can answer it I will give you thirty royal garments.” Then they said to his wife, “Tell us the answer to the riddle, or we will burn you with fire!” Though she did not know it. And she said, “I don’t know it.” Then she implored her husband to tell her what the riddle was, and he said, “Fine, it’s a lion and some honey.” And she told the people, “Oh it’s some honey and a lion, but don’t tell Samson!” And then she said, “Alright, there, I’ve told you the answer to the riddle.” And then Samson went back to them and they said, “Out of the eater comes something to eat – that’s honey. Out of the strong comes something sweet – strong, that’s the lion.” And then he went back in hot anger and said, “If you had not plowed at my field, you would not have gotten the answer.” And what do you think that means? And that means, if you had not made some plan against my wife you wouldn’t have found out the answer. He went back to a place where he killed thirty men and took their garments. The end.

We read many of Aesop’s fables, some delightful fairy tales, and several of Kipling’s Just-So Stories about how animals came to look as they do. We also read a few stories from Parables of Nature (as the title suggests, these stories are parables from the animal world) and two retellings of Shakespeare plays.

What kind of stories did Aesop write? Tell me your favorite Aesop’s fable, including your understanding of the moral.
James: Fables. Once in a dry spot where the birds could find very little to eat, a crow found a pitcher of water. He tried and tried and tried and tried to get the water, but he could not. Then he had an idea. He got some stones and put them in one by one and then when the water got higher he was able to have a drink. I don’t remember what the moral was.

Tell me one of the fairy tales we read this term.
James: The one about the prince and how he turned into a beast, with a snake’s body, wolf’s legs, boar’s chest, and lion’s head. There was this prince, his dad had died, he wasn’t very good after the fairy told him to be, she gave him a ring that pricked his finger every time he was bad and sometimes his finger would bleed. And then he was really angry at this girl, and then he went to the chamber where she was locked but she wasn’t there, and then he turned in fury on his tutor. And then he ordered him to be brought before him in chains like a criminal. Though he wasn’t. And then he turned into a beast when he went into the forest, and he was caught, and his tutor was the king for a little bit, and then he said, “I’ve got the crown but it’s not to rule it’s only to give it back to the prince when he’s back.” The beast was furious. He turned into a dog, and then into a dove, and then he was his proper self again.

We have been learning about British history and have been reading through 50 Famous Stories Retold and Our Island Story.

Tell the story of William Tell, or tell me what you remember about Cornelia’s Jewels.
James: Once there was a man, and he was very good at archery. And one day the emperor thought of cruel plan. He hung up his cap and made everyone bow down before it. Though William would not bow down to it. Then the emperor thought of a cruel plan against his son. He ordered that the son should stand in the middle of the square with an apple on his hat, and that William Tell would have to shoot the apple off his head with one shot, or the emperor would kill him. And he shot, and the son stood perfectly still and the apple came flying right off his head. And there was one more arrow sticking out from under his coat and the emperor asked, “What was that second arrow for?” And William Tell said, “That one was for your heart, if I had hurt my son.” And he went home and lived a long and happy life.

Natural History
We’ve all been enjoying the delightful stories found in the Burgess Bird Book; apparently June has been paying close attention to these stories, too, as she jumped in with a forgotten detail when both James and I were trying to remember how a story had ended. We’ve also regularly read from Paddle to the Sea and we’ve read a few stories from James Herriot’s treasury.

What is your favourite bird we have read about so far from the Burgess Bird Book? Tell me all you can about it. Or, tell about the bully in the old orchard.
James: I’m definitely going to tell about the bully! He always, always fights! And then he was living in Jenny Wren’s house, he had stolen her house. Yeah! Is that right? And then Jenny Wren and Mr. Wren were going, “Tut tut tut tut!” They were scolding him with all their might. And then Mrs. Bully was sitting in Jenny’s front door encouraging her husband! And in the end they were both driven out.
Me: No, they weren’t driven out of Jenny’s home…
James: They weren’t? What happened again?
Me: Uh…
June: Remember, the cat came wandering by and broke up the fight!

I chose a few addition questions from James’s worksheets, and a simple word problem. James answered the questions quite easily. We also played several math games together over the course of the week.

I had James neatly copy his full name and the names of all his family members, as well as a line that read, “How the leopard got his spots.” His work was not as neat as it could have been, but he did get it done promptly and without complaining.

Picture Study
Choose one of Peter Paul Ruben’s paintings that we’ve studied this term and describe it as well as you can.
James: Well, I choose to describe St. George and the Dragon. It was my favourite painting, even better than The Fall of Phaeton. So, St. George is on a horse and there is a lady by his side, and he has just run the cross into the mouth of the dragon and then “Arrrrgh!” There is a lady by him standing with a lamb by her, and the knight has all sorts of royal garments that are red and gold and red. And he has got some white stuff streaming out from behind his helmet. And the horse is like, “ooooh!” and his front legs are up in the air and he’s standing on his hind legs and he looks like he’s fighting fiercely. And the knight has his sword way up in the air. And the lady standing there looks like she really wants her knight to win! And that’s the end, the end.
Alice: St. George wearing flip-flops! (Haha, he is wearing sandals!)

Recite a poem you have memorized this term.
James learned several poems this term, and he chose to recite, “Bad King John” by Eleanor Farjeon. It’s from a lovely little book called Kings and Queens that is full of jaunty poems about the various kings and queens of England. James had randomly asked me to read one of those poems one day, and it immediately grabbed his attention. He memorized it on his own.


BAD KING JOHN by Eleanor Farjeon
John, John, bad King John
Shamed the throne that he sat on;
Not a scruple, not a straw,
Cared this monarch for the law;
Promises he daily broke;
None could trust a word he spoke;
So the Barons brought a Deed
Down to rushy Runnymede.
Magna Carta was it hight,
Charter of the People’s Right,
Framed and fashioned to correct
Kings who act with disrespect –
And with stern and solemn air,
Pointing to the parchment there,
“Sign! Sign! Sign!” they said
“Sign, King John, or resign instead!”

John, John, turning pale,
Ground his teeth and bit his nail;
Chewed his long moustache; and then
Ground and bit and chewed again.
“Plague upon the People!” he
Muttered, “What are they to me?
Plague upon the Barons, too!”
(Here he had another chew,)
But the Barons, standing by,
Eyed him with a baleful eye;
Not a finger did they lift;
Not an eyelash did they shift;
But with one tremendous roar,
Even louder than before,
“Sign! Sign! Sign!” they said,

(And King John signed.)

Closing Thoughts
There are some things that we need to work on: regular nature walks and nature journaling, listening to classical music, systematically working our way through the Baltimore Catechism, and getting into a good routine with our chores. I’m hoping the nature walks and chores will fall into place once we’re living closer to Jeremy’s work, and I have regular access to a vehicle and a dishwasher! 🙂

Year 1, Term 1 In Review

We are just about to begin the last week of our First Term of Year 1, and I thought I’d reflect a little on what has worked and what hasn’t worked so far in our homeschool…

Bible & Breakfast

Our Bible readings went okay. At first I wasn’t sure how exactly to proceed. Ambleside Online schedules one Old Testament story per week that the child is to narrate (tell back), but these stories skip ahead at a brisk pace. For example, Moses and the Burning Bush is a scheduled story, but the Exodus itself is not. I wasn’t really sure what to do about this – just read Old Testament stories at my own pace? Have James narrate a Bible story every day?

The question of which version of the Bible to read also came up. Ambleside Online recommends reading the King James Version, but when I did, James would fret, saying, “I don’t know what it’s saying!” and he got stories quite jumbled up as a result. I tried using the Douay-Rheims version instead (a Catholic Bible with lovely old language like the KJV), but many of the names are different – Samuel’s mother, Hannah, is called Anna, and Peninah is called Phenenna. I found that confusing for myself. After thinking about things for a while, I decided to go with a version that’s more understandable – my first priority with Bible is to have our children become familiar with the stories of the Old and New Testaments, while an added bonus is to be exposed to beautiful language. So we’re using the RSV (Catholic edition) for now.

I also decided to separate our assigned Bible readings (that James has to tell back) and our daily devotional readings. So now each morning we read the next section of 1 Samuel, and during our school session we read our school Bible reading. This is working much better so far.

I’ve also been a bit unsure about our catechism readings. We’re working through the St. Joseph First Communion Catechism, but at a pretty slow rate (maybe half a chapter per week). I re-read Celeste’s posts on religious reading, and I think we’ll follow her suggestion of reading one chapter per week, and then work on memorizing the questions and answers of that chapter the following week.

I’ve been wanting to include some more Catholic reading into our breakfast time as well, but wasn’t sure what to include. After doing some research online, I’ve ordered Mother Mary Loyola’s King of the Golden City and Marigold Hunt’s St. Patrick’s Summer. I’m looking forward to perusing these when they arrive and including one or both of them in our breakfast readings next term!

We usually sing our psalm and hymn at breakfast time, too. So far, we’ve learned several stanzas of Psalm 8, Psalm 116 and Psalm 136 (using the Book of Praise), and we’ve learned several hymns. James and June both loved singing “Be Thou My Vision.” The third stanza goes, “Be Thou my battle shield / sword for the fight / Be Thou my Dignity / Thou my delight…” They belted those words of battle imagery with hearty enthusiasm every single time (and Alice watched them with an amused sparkle in her eye)!!!

We’ve also included a simple calendar time at breakfast, where my script went something like this: “Good Morning! What day is it? What month is it? What is the date? What season is it? What liturgical season is it? What colour is Father wearing at Mass today? How is the weather today?” I found a simple app (Bravolol) that includes most of these questions and answers in French (except for the Mass question, of course! 🙂 ) and so we’re getting used to saying things like, “Quel temps fait-il?” and “Il y a des nuages.”

Tea Time

During Tea Time, we sing our folk songs and French songs, read and recite some poetry, do our picture study and get started on our AO readings of the day.

Our folk songs went okay. I wasn’t crazy about the songs AO selected for this term, so I chose some songs of my own selection for us to learn instead. I’d find a YouTube video of the The Skye Boat Song and we’d watch that daily till we learned to sing along with it. I found this worked okay when the kids were really into the song (as they were with The Erie Canal Song, for example), but didn’t work the greatest for songs they were ho-hum about. Then they’d tend to mumble along without learning the song well. And I found that I couldn’t sing most of the songs myself independently – I could just sing along with the music. So I think what we’ll do from here on out is just sing the songs independently…

Our French songs also went okay. I chose “Au Clair de la Lune” as our first song, but it actually doesn’t have that much repetition, and some of the stanzas are fairly complicated. James also started imagining English words in the song, so now every time he sings it he references a zebra!!! I’m trying to stick to simpler songs with more repetition so that we can learn them a bit better. 🙂

For our poetry, our poet for Term 1 was Robert Louis Stevenson. I had a lovely copy of A Child’s Garden of Verses that we began reading from, but after a week or two James began to resist reading this book. He’d plug his ears most grumpily and refuse to listen to the poem. It turns out the lovely Tasha Tudor illustrations gave him the impression this was girly poetry – and he was having none of that! So we moved on to another book of poetry we already owned (A Child’s Book of Poems by Gyo Fujikawa) and we’ve all enjoyed reading a poem or two a day from it. I’m really looking forward to moving on to some AA Milne next term!



Yes, I can see that these illustrations are perhaps a touch girly… 

I wasn’t all that happy with our poetry memorization this term. I had James write a line or two of a poem for his copywork, and he ended up memorizing the poem after reading it through again and again. But I’d like him to be more involved in the process, to choose his own poem to memorize, and to give June her own little poem to memorize as well (she’s happily memorized alongside James so far). And I really like Celeste’s idea of illustrating a poem once it’s been memorized and adding it to our Family Poetry Binder. So I should really make a Family Poetry Binder so we can get started on that next term! 🙂

Our picture study went fairly well this term. We started off with Rubens’s painting of St. George and the Dragon, with which James was immediately fascinated. He really enjoys studying the painting closely and then describing it for me while I look at it. I wasn’t really sure what to do during the second week of the painting. I suggested that James draw it from memory, but he is quite a perfectionist and found that there was far too much detail in a painting to even consider drawing it himself. Maybe next term I’ll have him describe the painting for me by telling me what to draw? We’ll see…

st george

I find that Alice gets very noisy and distracting during our Tea Time readings. I’ll have to be a little more proactive next term in choosing some toys for her to play with just during Tea Time…

AO Readings

Overall, our Ambleside Online readings went really well. James found most of them captivating, and June often listened to them attentively, too, and would chime in if James forgot a detail that stood out to her:

June: “But first he prayed, James! Don’t forget to say that!”
James: “Hey, no interrupting!”

50 Famous Stories: good! The stories are quite short and James found them very interesting.

An Island Story: the stories were longer (6-8 pages) and at first I read them all in one go and James wasn’t able to tell back much. So I’ve begun to have him narrate several times per reading. He isn’t crazy about this book, which is kind of surprising to me seeing as it’s all about battles and kings, things that naturally interest him.

– D’aulaire biographies – we read Leif the Lucky and James loved it.

Burgess Bird Book – James loved these stories and happily narrated them. We usually drew a picture of the bird we were reading about in our nature journals, or coloured a picture I printed off the computer. The kids really enjoyed this. I purchased a set of Sibley bird cards thinking those would be helpful reference cards, but the illustrations are teensy tiny and therefore of no use to us! We have a bird book with decent illustrations, and a Birds of Canada book with pictures of birds and these are good references. (I’m still on the lookout for a book with really large illustrations of birds of North America.)

Paddle to the Sea – James loves this book! My mom found a little carved canoe with a figure in it at a thrift store, and James loves to use it to narrate. Our accompanying mapwork is going well.

– James Herriot – James really enjoyed the two stories we read this term.

Aesop’s Fables – excellent for beginning narration!

Parables of Nature – long stories, but held James’s interest.

Just So Stories – quite liked these!

Blue Fairy book – good! Many of the stories are really long, so narrating every two pages works well.

– Shakespeare – James loved Shakespeare this term. I think what he really loved about it was acting out the story with little characters. I purchased a little set of finger puppets (cards with holes for your fingers) but it only has half the characters for each play, making it quite useless. Maybe we’ll need to get some little wooden figures and paint them? Just seems like so much work! But James loves having little figures with which to act out the story… maybe some little Lego people will do…

Little House and Redwall – free reads. James has heard most of the Year 1 free reads already, so we read the first Redwall book and are almost done reading Little House on the Prairie. He loves our free reading time, and does June!

Daily Delights

Math is going well. James is making steady progress and is enjoying his math lessons. He loves, loves, loves playing math games so we almost always play one after the rest of his work is done.

James’s copywork is going much better now. For the first eight weeks or so of this term, he was simply copying one letter at a time. I made a note of this and told myself I should read a bit more about how to do copywork properly because I was pretty sure he ought to have been copying words rather than letters. But I let it slide for a few weeks and then at the CM conference had several conversations with people about how necessary it is to do copywork word by word, rather than letter by letter. So, after the conference we made the change. I now encourage James to take a good look at the word, to form a picture of it in his mind, then cover the word and have him write it. Doing his copywork takes longer, but I think that this has made a big difference in his reading as well – it’s like he’s been forced to slow down and pay attention to the actual words. He used to just take a split second to look at a word and then would madly guess at it rather than taking the time to sound it out. Now he’s taking the time to look at words more carefully.

Speaking of reading practice, we’ve begun to use the McGuffey Eclectic Readers. We’d been working our way through Frog and Toad and other beginner readers, but James complained a couple times that they were too easy. He just finished the First Eclectic Reader and is getting started on the second one. And he’s LOVING them! The language is a little older, and the style is a tad preachy, but he doesn’t seem to mind that a bit. We might need to work on some more phonogram practice at this point, as some bigger and more complicated words are being tossed into the mix.

I wasn’t totally sure at the beginning of the term what to do for our Foreign Language study. I thought about teaching Dutch… but the resources were so scarce! I finally settled on teaching French, and then couldn’t decide which French curriculum to go with. I ended up getting the Cherrydale Press book and finally purchased the accompanying audio, too. It is (unfortunately) not very user friendly. I kept having to click to the middle of the audio to listen to the part I wanted to listen to, and then clicking stop so it didn’t keep going to a part I didn’t want to listen to. It was a small hassle, but a very annoying one… and I began skipping our French lessons to avoid fiddling around. So I looked around for a different program and found The ULAT. It is going so much better! The website is not very intuitive (or aesthetically pleasing) at first glance, but once you get used to it, it works really well. What I love about this program is that it is all oral – perfect for beginning language learners! James has been loving saying incorrect statements about us – “She lives in New York!” (while pointing at June) or “I did not make the bed!” Alice even said, impishly, “Il habite a New York” to Jeremy the other day!!! And when Jeremy looked at her and said that No, he doesn’t, she amended her statement: “Il habite a West Kelowna.” Haha!

For our handicraft this term, we finished our first toques. I must admit that James was very enthusiastic about working on them, which is why we finished them. He’d get up in the morning and want to get in a bit of knitting before breakfast. I have not been very diligent about taking out our second toques, so they are languishing half-finished in the dresser drawer. Part of the problem is that I’m pretty sure I’m going to run out of yarn, but I never feel like driving to Michael’s to pick up more… (And the theme here seems to be that I need everything to be in place in order to get things done!!) I’m thinking about making Jesse Tree ornaments with our wood-burning kit as our handicraft for next term… is that too tricky a project to do with a 6 year old?!


Nature study: AWFUL! We have neglected this hugely. My kids used to naturally just go outside for hours every day when we lived in Fruitvale, but here they are not tempted to because of the lame backyard. I keep pushing this off, thinking that when we actually buy a house, then I’ll start going outside more! 🙂 For next term… well, we are planning on driving Jeremy to school every Wednesday so we can attend a Mom and Tots group, so I think we’ll plan on getting our nature walk and nature study in on Wednesdays.

The other challenge is that our library system is pretty limited. In Fruitvale I was able to request up to 20 interlibrary loans at a time (and I could do that from home) whereas here many of the books I’m looking for are not in the system, and I have to go to the library to request an interlibrary loan (only 1-2 at a time are permitted). So – I’m having a hard time finding good resources for nature study books. Still thinking of how to solve this problem… aside from spending several hundred dollars on excellent books! 😉

Timelines – okay. Some resistance to more writing – “But I’ve already done my copywork for today!”

Drawing – James draws regularly and loves it. Maybe begin formal lessons next term?

Geography – we’ve been doing the occasional GeoPuzzle and have gone through a few lessons from CM’s Geography book.

Math Lessons

James has been working his way through RightStart Level B this past term, and most days he absolutely loves it. He says it’s his favourite subject.

There are a lot of options available these days when it comes to math curricula, and I thought about using a couple different programs when I was first looking around. Singapore Math is used in quite a few classical schools, so I considered it – but I really don’t like its cutesy graphics. I also thought about using Math-U-See because Mystie Winckler (homeschooling mom whose blog I’ve been following for years) really loves it. But I didn’t like that it was DVD based – at this point in James’s education, I’d prefer to teach him myself, rather than have him learning from videos. I ended up choosing RightStart mostly based on online recommendations (especially on the Ambleside Online Forum), and I’m really happy with it so far. I was looking for a program that keeps math both interesting and practical, and RightStart does both well.

The lessons are very clearly laid out. Each two-page spread in the book contains one lesson, and each lesson has clear objectives and a list of the various materials needed to do that lesson. So, when we’re ready to start our math lesson, I open the book, gather the supplies and we begin.


I also like that it slowly builds on what a child has already learned. For example, the warm-up activity gets children used to thinking through simple addition facts. I’ve seen good, steady progress over the past few months in James’s mental math.

In today’s lesson, James was working on adding 6s, 7s and 8s to two-digit numbers. Charlotte Mason recommends keeping math lessons to 15-20 minutes when children are in Year 1, so if we don’t make it through an entire lesson (and we rarely do), I just put a little sticky arrow on the page and we pick up from where we left off on the next day.


June loves keeping a keen and watchful eye on James during his lessons.


One of RightStart’s advantages is that it integrates math games into the lessons, which really helps reinforce learning. James loves the games he’s learned so far! Here’s one example from a few weeks ago:


This week James started learning a simple form of Solitaire.




Gotta get a little bit of attention, too! 🙂



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  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.


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!!)


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.


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!


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. 🙂



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 we 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,  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.

Hiking the Bear Creek Canyon Rim last week:



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.


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.


Math games:


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


Reading practice:


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. 🙂 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.


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!


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. 🙂


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.


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. 🙂