Home group + children = real life

We began this journey in September, I read the sign up list for small groups at church and ours was the only one that said “children welcome”.  Which is totally normal for American church, I get it.  But we decided from the get go that if we were going to host a community group in our home, it would have to be all of us.  The logistics of a weekly sitter wasn’t even the real issue.  The much more significant factor was that we saw great value in figuring out how to build community with our kids in the mix.  They are after all, an integral part of our life.

After much consideration we decided last summer that we would host a Sunday evening group and meet for dinner at 5:00.  We thought maybe no one would sign up for our family oriented group.  We had no idea that we’d end up spending the better part of a year sharing life with these 21+ people (11 of them being children 10 and under!).

Here are a few reflections and lessons learned from our first year doing this:

  • Sharing a meal together weekly is a major investment – but it is tremendously worthwhile.  Everyone has to eat right?  So why not figure out how to do it together?
  • Simply eating together poses all sorts of opportunity to get to know people better.  You gain understanding of food allergies, favorites and how people tend to eat in their own homes.
  • By delegating the components of each meal, the load can be shared reasonably well with the whole group.
  • NOT delegating means me cooking dinner for 20 people.  Which happened more than once.  But it was my poor planning and failure to ask for help.  Lesson?  Next time we will choose 5 or 6 favorite meals and simply rotate each week through the options.  This would require much less of me (who already plans and prepares about 18 meals a week for 6 or 7 people).
  • Hosting a small group does not require impeccable housecleaning skills.  Sometimes the guest bath smelled terrible.  Sometimes the counters weren’t cleaned off.  Sometimes there was still laundry about.
  • It’s more than okay not to have your house in tip top shape.  It’s real and real is good.  What matters far more is that your heart and attitude say “welcome” when people walk in your front door.
  • If you’ve been having a spat with your hubby and aren’t on speaking terms, it might be slightly awkward to have a load of people over, discuss a book and pray together all the while offering a cold shoulder to your spouse.  Dealing with your issues would have probably been better.  However, this again, is just life and sharing it with others is part of the journey.  No one has it together all the time and its okay for other people to see that!
  • When you don’t feel well and you want to stay in bed, throwing sweats on and saying “come on in” anyway is enough.  There is something intimately wonderful about inviting others into your (imperfect) life and home.
  • Your children will at some point be very loud or very naughty or very naked and it will be embarrassing.  This.  Is.  Life.
  • Half way through the year I told everyone “You are like family now and it sometimes takes me 2 or 3 days to finish the dishes from us all eating on Sunday!  So I really need some help in the kitchen after we eat.”  Problem solved.
  • Paper products are expensive and wasteful.  I couldn’t see buying and using them every week.  So we use real dishes.  This wouldn’t work for everyone (which is totally okay, you’ve gotta do what works for you!) but we made it work.
  • While kids played after dinner, we could discuss the chapter in the book we were reading together and then pray for one another.  Yes, we were interrupted at times.  Especially in winter it was a little hard and loud.  But the kids learned over time that they needed to wait till after we prayed to ask for dessert or to come see their shows.
  • It is a tremendous privilege to be able to pray for others and even more amazing to watch those prayers be answered.  Every family in our group including ours came up against some tough stuff this year.  Being able to share those burdens is a beautiful picture of love in action.
  • And last but certainly not least – everyone could use a Roger in their life…

Don’t ask me how he got dubbed “Roger”, I’ve absolutely no idea.  But Kyler, in this particular costume, is Roger.  And he has entertained us many Sunday nights.  Tonight’s year end final show was as unique as the rest:

the crew


End of year wrap-up!

I love reading what people have used for school and what they’ve loved (or not!).  It is fun for me to look back on the year on what were the highlights in terms of material we went through.  It’s also helpful as I look forward to what’s next!  So, here are a few reflections on this year:

While I realize that many large families use the same boxed curriculum for every child and often rely heavily on workbooks and independent learning, this isn’t how our family works best.  Yes, it means more work and planning for me.  Yes, it means more mess and exploration.  It has other implications as well.  We are still finding a balance.  But being able to tailor our children’s education is a gift.  One of the many reasons they learn at home with us is so that we can enjoy that freedom.

This year’s keepers:

  • Story of the World Volume 2 – we used the text (which is wonderfully written in story-type form) as well as the audio CD’s (which are just the text read aloud – fantastic for when we were on the go) and the student activity book.  The activity book is chock full of ideas, projects, narration/copywork suggestions, review questions and other super helpful things.
  • Spelling Power – a comprehensive, clearly laid out and proven method for teaching spelling.  Love that ONE book has all levels of spelling I will need to teach.  Our third try at a spelling curriculum and it has been an excellent fit for about age 8 and older.
  • Answers in Genesis (science) – God’s Design for Life – We used only two of the three (Human Body as well as the World of Animals) in this set but thoroughly enjoyed both of them.  It is set up well for multiple ages which is wonderfully helpful.
  • Teaching Textbooks (math-for our oldest two) – nothing not to love here, our second year using this and such a big help for non-math me.
  • PAL program from Institute for Excellence in Writing – their first offering for the youngest crowd so I waffled a long while before buying it.  This was perhaps the greatest highlight for the two younger learners.  We had “school time with mom” at 9 AM most weekday mornings all year.  They got my undivided attention while we went together through the PAL materials.  They learned so much but more than that we had a fantastic time together doing it.
  • Institute for Excellence in Writing – Fables, Myths and Fairy Tales book (oldest two) – We went through this with an informal co-op of 12 other families and it was excellent.  This was our first introduction to IEW’s material and I only wish we’d begun sooner.  Our kids have grown a great deal in their observation of quality writing as well as their ability to write creatively.
  • Copywork/handwriting – we used some workbooks for this as well as just copying things from our history material which worked quite well.
  • Pathways readers – A gem of a book series that my friend Kim tipped me off to.  Wholesome, interesting, affirming of values that we hold to in our home, these books were a great, inexpensive addition to our collection.  Each one has a workbook to check for comprehension that I offered but didn’t require our kids to do.
  • The Ultimate Homeschool Planner – Worked well for me all year and was flexible enough that I could fill in lesson plans for all the kids.  After a school year’s use, it’s still in its’ binding and that is impressive!
  • A Child’s Geography (focusing on the Holy Lands) – While the honest truth is we started this part way through the year AND we aren’t near completing it, the material is worth using and well put together.  The kids loved all that we read and we will absolutely pick it back up next year some time.

On the shelf for another season:

  • Right Start Math – I won’t even tell you what lesson is bookmarked currently.  Tried out for Kyler.  This was confusing and complicated and frustrating for me.  I’m sure it’d work well for some.  Just not me/us!
  • Picture Smart Bible – this is an incredible Bible curriculum that I wanted to work for and include all four oldest kids.  In reality it would have worked best for our third and fourth grader.  The younger two were distracted and frustrated that they couldn’t keep up.  I will certainly give it another go around in the future!
  • Daily Grams Grammar – fine and adequate but we are changing it up next year for something a bit more interesting I hope.

Last year the list of no-go’s was certainly longer.  It is really fun to be getting the hang of things a bit more each year.  Next year poses all its own challenges and adventures and we are ever so thankful for the respite of summer before we tackle them!


Farm kids

If you’ve visited us here, you know I use the term farm loosely – it’s more a hobby farm.  We don’t have land cleared for growing our own food, I completely gave up on gardening this year, I don’t even have one single tomato plant growing (I do have hundreds of seeds that I’d hoped to plant this spring!).  But we do have all sorts of animals (including goats we will breed next year so that we can have fresh milk), chickens that provide our eggs and various wildlife that call our back forest their home.

Here are some snapshots from the past week or two of life around here…

taking an ice cream break on operation "put together play set" day!
taking an ice cream break on operation “put together play set” day!
Rylee and her sweet pal Ellie mowing Rylee's patch of the back lawn
Rylee and her sweet pal Ellie mowing Rylee’s patch of the back lawn

these brave ones came closer to the house than usual - I'm fairly sure our noise level here isn't conducive to their being super close but this was sure special!
these brave ones came closer to the house than usual – I’m fairly sure our noise level here isn’t conducive to their being super close but this was sure special!
the view from the kitchen window that morning...
the view from the kitchen window that morning…
a few mornings ago, I heard Finn leave the garage, when I caught a glimpse of this I ran right back in to snap a photo (he had no idea I was there the whole time)
A few mornings ago, I heard Finn leave the garage, when I caught a glimpse of him I ran right back in for the camera (he had no idea I was there the whole time).  Truly, this pic is the essence of my boy in so many ways.
Upon quietly following him, I realized he'd gotten handfuls of goat treats and was heading out to doll them amongst his goat friends.
Upon quietly following him, I realized he’d gotten handfuls of goat treats and was heading out to doll them amongst his goat friends.
He reached up to throw the last treat over to see who could snatch it up fastest - then headed back in to find some other fun thing to do.  The boy is more resourceful than I can possibly express.
He reached up to throw the last treat over to see who could snatch it up fastest – then headed back in to find some other fun thing to do. The boy is more resourceful than I can possibly express.