Signs of (good) times…

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While I put the baby down for a nap, Audrey grabbed her work and her little brother and headed for the sun…where I found her explaining the “code” from her Explode the Code workbook.

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The view from my pillow every morning…gads of clean, folded, piled laundry

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The after-playtime-outside bathtub residue

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My breakfast-in-bed Mother’s day treat!

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When’s the last time you played so hard you had grass and mud in your undies? 🙂

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Someone’s been eating my onion tops…

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My inner nerd enjoying an afternoon of book organizing and labeling….LOVE!

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Dissecting a crayfish…wrapping up our year immersed in the study of all God’s amazing swimming creatures


Rainy day homeschool

They tell me to sit down.  While I’ve been on an important phone call they’ve been rummaging through dress ups and their own imagination and come up with an elaborate game.  They take me on a journey with the map in the living room, across the ocean in a steam ship, by train over land…all the while Caleb points to each spot on the wall map telling me where they are traveling.

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After the “travels” they disperse around the house.  I watch and listen and smile.

Caleb:  “I’m pounding nails in (holding an imaginary hammer and pencils for ‘nails’), is this a good place?  Watch out for my nails Audrey.”

Audrey:  “Yes, it’s good.”

Mom:  “What are you doing?”

Caleb:  “Building Audrey’s orphanage, I’m almost done.”

Mom:  “What’s the name of the orphanage?”

Audrey (ever so matter-of-factly):  “A Chunk of Love Orphanage.”

Mom (deep breath and huge grin – could I love them any more?):  “That’s awesome.  I love it.”

Somehow, don’t ask me how, Caleb tells me that he’s Ronald Reagan before he was President of the United States and he is building Audrey (who tells me she’s dressed up to be Clara Barton because she didn’t like the name Gladys Alward) an orphanage in Hong Kong. I bite my tongue and try not to laugh, looking at the outfit Caleb has chosen, brown Carthartt coveralls and leather gloves and brown leather boots.

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Kyler is a rock climber.  He’s scaling Mt St Helens (our living room recliner chair) before it blew up.

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Rylee makes me guess who she is…her bright fuschia sari is a dead giveaway though and I get it right on my first guess, Amy Carmichael.

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And this little one is content to watch it all unfold…

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No, she’s not embarrassed that she is still in her pajamas at 3:00 in the afternoon 🙂

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!


Living history – colonial times

History in a textbook can be so boring that the whole subject is forever labeled as far from interesting.  One of my favorite things is when I get the chance to make it come alive for my children.  Today was one of those days.  Our American Girl book club group met here today and we studied colonial America.  We’ve been hard at work all week getting ready and I was nervous last night that the day wouldn’t meet up to our collective expectations!

Colonial Williamsburg, where the Felicity books take place, is a place so near to the heart of our family.  We’ve visited numerous times and my grandparents live there.  My husband is a history major and is totally passionate about history.  I am the teacher of our children so I am immersed in all of it all over again and that has to be one of the best things ever!

We started with a book discussion, talked about colonial times, what their life looked like and how it differed from ours.  We talked about the Patriots and Loyalists and how much was at stake during that time. The girls joined me at the table where I’d put out several things similar to what they would have seen in the late 1700’s.

Glass blown by hand tinged green from the algae in the water, large keys made of metal and brass, candle holders to light dark nights with no electricity, extremely heavy iron that had to heat in the fire before using them and a washboard for all the hand washing of laundry.  A copy of the Declaration of Independence and a colonial map, just for fun!

In discussing clothing and bathing, we learned that the reason they wore those white caps on their heads wasn’t just the style but that it kept their hair clean – bathing was such an ordeal.  The mob cap protected them from sun as well as kept their heads cleaner.  My (amazing) mother offered to sew white mob caps for all the girls and also to get ready little small mob caps for their dolls.  It was too fun!

  The girls glued lace to the edge of their doll caps then let it dry and later threaded elastic through to complete the project – they were so proud – they turned out darling!  Even the boys insisted on dressing up, their job was to tend the fire outside.

I walked the girls outside, talked about how much work just making a cake would be, getting milk, making butter, grinding flour and collecting eggs.  We don’t get milk yet from our goats but we talked about how they would have had animals that all served a purpose and were key to their survival.  Our horse is a cute pet but I said that horses would have had to work hard then, plowing, pulling carriages or being ridden.  We checked for eggs but there were none, I’d taken the last two from under the hens this morning to bake our apple cake for snack time!

We made a button spinner, buzz saw type game with a string and button, played Blindman’s Bluff in the backyard and colored colonial paper dolls.  We talked about the things they used to play with – corn husks, shells, flowers, leaves and tried to imagine those being our ‘fun things’.

Getting to do this with these girls was the highlight of the month for me and for sure one of the highlights of our year!  Next time we meet I am hosting a formal tea, teaching how to curtsy and dance the minuet.  We might learn some manners too!

Our homeschool year

This post is as much for me as it is to share, as I type it out one more time it helps me see the flow and get (more) excited for what is to come.

The new school year holds more for me as teacher-mom than ever before.  I have 4 official students this year (though trust me, Phineas is definitely a learner, he is outside right now watching brother search for caterpillars and giggling every step of the way!).  While I am fighting the temptation to hyperventilate while I finish up our schedule, I am honestly really excited for all that is to come.

Here is our synopsis for this 2012-2013 Strovas family school year:

History:  Story of the World Vol. 2: The Middle Ages – This is our history ‘spine’ and we will do all sorts of fun and interesting activities and mapwork and reading in relation to where we are on the timeline.   Each of the oldest three will create a history notebook to chart time and collect their work as we go.

Reading:  Hard to list a curriculum here for the olders, I can’t keep enough books on hand for them to read.  They will be offered a continual feast of quality books that challenge their reading and thinking.  For Kyler and Audrey we are going through the PAL reading program from the Institute for Excellence in Writing which looks to be a great deal of fun and I am thrilled to get some focused fun/learning time with the two of them.

Geography:  no specific curriculum, but plenty of it built into other subjects

Grammar:  Daily Grams workbooks for Rylee and Caleb, First Language Lessons with Kyler at a leisurely pace…but at these ages my much more experienced friends assure me that reading excellent literature and observing good grammar is more important than crazy amounts of grammar drilling.

Bible:  For Bible as a subject, we are excited to try something new and use the Picture Smart Bible materials.  Each day the kids will listen and observe and follow along with me in creating a ‘picture’ of every book of the Bible.  My dad would love it, he has a penchant for diagrams and really it’s like a beautifully written diagram of each book.

Science:  We are using Answers in Genesis this year.  Starting with The World of Animals in fall, then The Human Body in winter and in spring we will do The World of Plants.  It is perfectly suited for varied ages and teaches Creation science in a wonderful way.  The oldest three will keep a science notebook to catalog their studies in this area.

Writing/Copywork:  There are abounding opportunities to practice writing, but specific writing practice will be given daily in correlation to history and literature studies.  The oldest two are in a literature co-op this year where they will develop their writing skills a great deal I expect!

Math:  Rylee and Caleb are using Teaching Textbooks (which we LOVE) this year while Kyler (and Audrey as she is interested) will dive into Right Start Mathematics (hands on, lots of games, I think it will be great) .  All are well suited to the kids that are using them….at least as well as I can tell.  Some of my students do not love math at all and no curriculum in the world could change that!

Spelling:  Trying something new here in this department this year, Spelling Power looks promising and the only way to find out is to give it a try.  Sequential Spelling didn’t work too well last year.

Art and Music study:  With one focus a week, we will talk and observe and learn about either a famous artist or composer.  But as often as possible (think daily!) we will go about our learning with a smattering of classical music, just because we can!

Why we homeschool

I love reading other people’s post about why they homeschool and I used to struggle to formulate a proper response succinctly when people would ask me why on earth I would choose to keep my kids with me all day, all year.  So this year, really for myself more than anyone, I thought I ought to make myself write out some thoughts on the matter.

There are a lot of reasons why we homeschool now though if I’m honest in the beginning it was more from fear of other options and a dreamy hope that we would whittle away blissful days of learning together.  While we do spend days learning together and it is awesome, bliss isn’t probably the best descriptor.  Chaotic, messy, loud, passionate, frustrating, rewarding and meaningful would better fit the bill.

One of my favorite aspects of home based learning is that learning becomes a lifestyle that we live out together.  We don’t sequester off a ‘school room’ and only do school certain minutes in that certain place.  Though some times and spots (the kitchen bar or table or couch or covered front porch or under a tree on the front lawn)  we do more traditional work, the boundaries of home and school blend into a beautiful mess.  It can be a Saturday morning at 10 and Caleb can find a brilliant green striped caterpillar and we can work on identifying and classifying it together.  It can be Rylee not feeling well and waiting till 4 pm to sit down for her math lesson because she tends to work best later in the day anyway.  It can be a week that several people we know are sick or in need and we spend a Tuesday baking and cooking food together then delivering it to bellies that will be blessed by it.  Life and learning and loving get all wound up in this indescribable way and it is hands down, every day worth the sacrifice and the work.  It’s worth missing out on coffee dates with friends after school-drop-off time and time to pursue hobbies and such.

We are able to adjust for different children’s learning pace and style when they learn in this setting.  This has been a huge blessing as we’ve watched our children grow and develop in their skills and styles.  I am challenged to be a student of my students and to figure out how best to bring them to feast on knowledge, truth and great literature.

Facilitating sibling communication and relationships, sometimes my least favorite job, is also a part of our learning lifestyle.  We get all day to figure out how to work together, how to all pitch in to make this home run smoothly, how to honor mom and how to work hard.  We mess it all up all the time and we learn and we get the chance to give grace every single day.

When we talk about the stars in the sky and read about the founding fathers, I marvel and wonder out loud at how God works and designs and uses the lives of people to make history.  This I love.  I could not imagine not being the one to stand before them impassioned and animated reading the Declaration of Independence and talking about what freedom means and the price so many have paid for us to enjoy it.

We can hunker down and get a school-days worth of work completed in a couple of hours.  Then we can pursue carving, sewing, tree-climbing, adventure-finding and delight in nature before the sun goes down.  We can have friends over or go to classes at co-op or take field trips when we fancy.  Even if its a weekday afternoon or morning.  The freedom and flexibility abound and I love that.

The way ‘school’ soaks into life and the kitchen table gets covered with handwriting practice and maps.

The chance to be the one learning the most about who my kids are, how they can thrive, what they are passionate about and what sorts of choices (and friends) they are making, I am incredibly grateful for this.

Just a part of the iceberg here, more thoughts are mulling about but for now, I’ll just say that the (official) new school year is upon us and I can’t wait to dive in when the day is here.  But for these last few days of summer, you’ll find me sleeping in, drinking coffee on the front porch at 10 am in my jammies with my kiddos hanging around…




Finding order – with a houseful of kids

Yes, I realize that five kids between 18 months and 9 years of age is not a houseful to some, but it is to most.  And I most certainly have felt a big pull to make some strides in the area of organization and planning our days to work better.  When we moved this spring I thought I had this great chance to implement 52 grand ideas on ‘how-we-can-do-things-better’.  Turned out we actually had this great chance to clean out, give away and somehow survive moving.  That was about it.  And it was plenty.

I emailed a few veteran mama friends towards the end of May.  We were (barely) crawling to the finish line and may or may not have finished our grammar work before calling it ‘summer’.  My email went something like this:

I have a lot of small people at my house.  I love them.  They are messy and loud and imperfect (darn it!).  I am feeling pretty overwhelmed.  I want to be able to manage my home better, spend more time doing fun stuff with my kids, train them to help more efficiently and effectively and to PUT THINGS AWAY AFTER GETTING THEM OUT.

So those may be the main bullet points but in reality my honest email was much longer and was a plea for some direction, inspiration and encouragement.  This stage with young ones is just plain hard.  No way around it only one way, through.  I trudged forward and packed our years school materials away for summer and took a deep breath.  There was so much I loved and I am ever so thankful to get to have them with me instead of sending them off every morning.

There were several approaches to getting organized but some basic principles, that I’d seen pay great dividends even when I merely dabbled in them, continued to surface as I searched for ideas and help.  Themes like:

  • get up before your kids and get ready for your day before it gets away from you
  • assign chores to your children, stick with the same ones so they get in a groove and do them well – to learn a good work ethic, everyone needs to learn to help out
  • expect EXCELLENCE – show them what a good job looks like and challenge them to greatness
  • children thrive on structure and routine, it makes them feel safe
  • mom’s need to model discipline and self-control (and sitting on the couch/computer/facebook on a smart phone/etc need serious boundaries)
  • one can schedule and still cultivate free play, creativity and other lovely things (I did not know this, really!)

Early June I wrote a friend (who I knew was struggling in the same ways) and suggested we read and brainstorm how we could plan better and make our life at home with our kids run more smoothly.  She said a quick yes.  We read and made lists and bounced ideas off each other and our husbands and made more lists.  Our goal was to, by summer’s end, have a workable schedule for our entire days during the (home)schooling year.  We would meet up late August and spend a few hours (celebrating her birthday) and hashing out all the details to form our many lists and thoughts into a master family schedule.

Today was the big day.  We woke with the sun and I drove a long ways while she took a ferry across the water to get to our meeting place.  After a hearty breakfast we broke out the gelly roll pens, the mechanical pencils, the plethora of lists, big erasers and a lot of determination.  We spent hours working and planning (and talking).  I think I drank 4 cups of coffee and 6 glasses of ice water and 2 mugs of tea.

We interrupted each other a few dozen times and erased what we’d written more times than that.  Though this part seemed hard, it was easy compared to the work ahead.  We have patterns that need changing, habits that need breaking and it won’t be a piece of cake for sure.  In a few weeks, I’ll be sure to post again and update on how the implementation all went down.  I expect it to be more than rocky.  But we will persevere and adjust when needed.  For now, we’re soaking in these summer days and spending every extra minute at the fair and in the sun!

4-H goat group

In the hopes of finding a farm/animal outlet for our kids who live in suburbia, we joined a 4-H goat group.  It has so far been a fantastic experience.  The kids are learning a LOT.  Not just about goats but about learning to give a presentation and run a meeting.  Rylee ran (and won, unopposed) for VP of the group.  So fun!

We traveled a ways north to a goat farm and took a tour to learn all about dairy goats.  It was a great time.


It has been a dreadful long time since I’ve written about mornings.  I’m not about to write anything on here that isn’t true and real.  And thus, I’ve had nothing productive or wonderful to say about morning time for…about 7 months.  Phineas has been a character-growing-tool in the hands of a gracious God.  Of course all children are, this is one of a multitude of reasons they are given to us.  But sleep has been extra elusive and patience a minute-by-minute need these past months.  And for some reason I put on myself the unnecessary burden of not wanting to complain lest I give someone the room to say “See, that’s why I don’t have five kids” or “You did this to yourself you know!”.  Yes, people do say and think those things.  All the time.

Life slowed – we did survival.  And my blissful mornings up early before anyone woke up were a distant memory.

But fall is here.  School is underway.   New routines are in place.  And my heart is in desperate need of deep portions of God and truth and grace.  There is no substitute for a vibrant, authentic, organic relationship with Jesus.  I cannot catch it by being around people who exude His love.  But in being around those ones, my appetite is whet again for more.  More than whispered half prayers in the night.  More than Sunday sermons. More than frustrated weariness that comes from depending on flesh.

Week before last at church, as soon as I saw the title on the bulletin Discipline I thought “Ugh, really?  I so don’t want to hear about this today.”  Only because I’ve been hashing out with God why I don’t see certain fruit in my life (read: patience, gentleness, joy, etc) and I’ve kept hearing the same thing from Him,

“There is NO substitution for time spent with me.  You cannot manufacture what you are longing for.  No matter how capable you are you still need ME.”

So I’ve known I needed some changes (namely, the will to get up every day before my kids come pouncing onto my bed to wake me up!).  But have lacked the guts to try, I just don’t want to fail.  Its just been a L-O-N-G seven months (did I already say that?).  I’m tired.  Like bone tired, super exhausted.

But He still beckons me.  He knows I’m tired.  He offers me all that I need and still I choose sleep over all else.

So last week Monday morning, for the first time since last year I set my alarm and woke up at 6 AM.  I thought the losing sleep was the “pain now” and the time to get my heart in order the “reward later”.  Wrong.  Literally at the sound of my alarm for 2 seconds on the lowest volume, Finn woke up.  So I got ready while he played then juggled him in the front pack while I bounced on the yoga ball to keep him quiet and tried to hold and read my prayer book and have some semblance of a ‘quiet’ time.  Not exactly what I’d envisioned, me curled up alone in my cozy chair with hot tea and a blanket and my Bible while the rest of the house sleeps.

But He met me anyway.  And I confessed my undiscipline and asked for a new beginning.  And I trust He can do that…again 🙂