5 Steps to Begin Again After a Holiday

Happy New Year! It’s time to begin again in the Snell household after a full holiday season.

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Our Holy Family of Nazareth remains as a reminder of Christmas lessons

“Ordinary Time” sounds like a good idea after feasts, travels, a new puppy, family-time, a teething baby, gift-giving, and more. My 5 year old keeps saying, “I’m so tired and I don’t know why!”

But starting again is often easier said than done. I love Mason’s metaphor of “Laying Down the Rails,” because it rings true. When our whole system is up and running, it just keeps running. When the train falls off the track, it’s so hard to get it moving again…

So here are 5 steps I take to get back-on-track, after holidays, travel, extended illness, or at the beginning of a new term.

  1. Order and refresh your home.

  • Toys: Often on a break, I’ve let out more toys from our toy library or we’ve been given gifts so I take the time to go through play areas and bedrooms and return items to our toy library in the basement.

  • Food: I make sure we’ve restocked our pantry and have a solid meal plan. Over a break, it’s much easier to wing it, but since starting back is hard to do, having all of my meals planned (even breakfast and lunch), means I have one less thing to think about. Also, I try to purge all of the sweets and extra sugar that has made its way into our house and be sure we have lots of healthy snacks around instead.

 

  • Clothes: I try to do a quick purge of items that the children have outgrown or seasonal items no longer needed (Holiday dresses put away, for example). And then we catch up on laundry.

  • De-clutter Hot Spots: It’s easy for piles to start when everyone is in holiday mode–the stairs, the kitchen table, the mantle, a coffee table. We spend time to put things back in their places. After Christmas gift giving, there are usually a few items that need to find a new home.

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  1. Order and Refresh the school room.

 

  • Schedule/Timetable: I look over our time-table to be sure it is still will work for this new season. Has a new activity or sport started? Will the upcoming few weeks entail more travel or any disruptions I need to plan around?
  • Refresh Supplies: It sure is nice to begin with freshly sharpened pencils and to be sure all of our notebooks are ready to go.
  • Organize Bookshelves: I purge any books no longer needed and any books that have found their way to the school shelf that don’t belong. Books have a life of their own, don’t they?
  • Weekly School Prep Page: I walk through “my weekly school prep page” in my bullet journal
  • Pre-reading: I make sure any books I need to pre-read are up in my bedroom so I can skim them at night before bed.

 

  1. Choose one new habit.

Though we have turned the page of our calendar to a new year, for the Charlotte Mason mamma, not much changes…We think in terms of habits, not resolutions. The New Year is a natural time to pause and reflect, but we know that refinement is a slow, steady effort. Not a wild goal. Resolutions tend to be easily broken, frustratingly out-of-reach, quickly discarded. Big goals may help motivate us for a time, but we are in it for the long haul.

  • Habits are part of our regular, every day life.
  • Habits are consistent and reliable.
  • Habits become involuntary. Like eating, breathing, and making our beds
  • Habits are something we do because it is part of who we are.

“Learning How to Live” means we are in the Habit of Building Habits.

What new habit do you need most?

  1. Bullet Journal! (Yes, it’s a verb)

The bullet journal has truly revolutionized my life—I’m better organized and much more at peace. Here’s what I do:

  • Brain Dump: I just list out all of the things that have been swirling in my head—thank you notes, items to be returned, a check to send, a worry about a child, a goal I have. There is no rhyme or reason to the list.

 

  • Monthly Calendar and Project list: I migrate items from the brain dump that belong here and add anything that might be missing.

 

  • Weekly Calendar: I create the new weekly page.

 

  • Planning Routine: I look over my planning routine page just to be sure I’m not forgetting to do what I’ve planned to do to plan.

 

  1. Start with a modified schedule.

 

I plan to start at least a half hour later, if we’ve been sleeping in, so I cut back on a few blocks on our time-table for that day to account for the later start. I also know brains will be a bit sluggish so I lower my expectations. This might mean I read smaller sections than usual before asking them to narrate or I might allow a child who has difficulty writing, draw their narration. I might re-arrange the week to put the books and subjects that bring us the most delight on the first day.

I know the temptation to just jump back in and not take additional time off, but time and time again, I’ve seen this backfire. If education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life, it make sense that we need to think on these things for our days to go well. Putting things in place will mean that the train will chug smoothly down the rails and in the end much more will be accomplished.

Often, I am disappointed that I didn’t “accomplish more” when a break comes to an end. But it’s important for us as parents and teachers to take real breaks too. So now I just tack on a few more days at the end of each break and try to fully embrace each holiday. “Work while you work, play while you play, this is the way to be happy each day.
Remember school teachers have in-service days to plan and organize–homeschooling moms need them too!

So take that extra day or two or three, after you’ve gotten off the tracks, and you will find delight again in your home, your children, and your day!

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Spaces to Think No. 10

The destiny of the child is ruled by his parents, because they have the virgin soil all to themselves. The first sowing must be at their hands, or at the hands of such as they choose to depute.

What do parents sow? Ideas. (Volume 2 p. 29)

 

Education is a life; that life is sustained on ideas; ideas are of spiritual origin; and,

‘God has made us so’

that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another. The duty of parents is to sustain a child’s inner life with ideas as they sustain his body with food. (Volume 2 p. 39)

In the early years of the child’s life it makes, perhaps, little apparent difference whether his parents start with the notion that to educate is to fill a receptacle, inscribe a tablet, mould plastic matter, or nourish a life; but in the end we shall find that only those ideas which have fed his life are taken into the being of the child; all the rest is thrown away, or worse, is like sawdust in the system, an impediment and an injury to the vital processes. (Volume 2 p. 38)

  • What ideas were sown in your child’s life this week?
  • Did you see their education as a matter of filling a receptacle and inscribing a tablet (checking off a box) or nourishing their life?
  • In what ways did their education nourish their life and form their vital processes?
  • Are you still hanging onto old ways of doing school, even though you know it will, at best, be sawdust or, at worst, be an impediment to true learning?
  • Are we patient enough to sow the idea and wait for the seed to sprout as it is meant to do or, in our impatience, do we seek the easy or quicker way for immediate results, even if it may prove detrimental to their attitude about learning and themselves?
  • Do we value immediate results even though we know that these won’t result in true learning and the formation of character?
  • Mason tells us that our duty is to sustain our child’s inner life with ideas. Do you know how to do this? In Artist Study? History Class? What about Science? Math? Copywork?
  • Any struggles with this that we can help you with?

 

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This post is part of our Friday series: “Spaces to Think” You can read the others here.

The Relationship of Atmosphere and Discipline in a Mason Education.

There are many important aspects of home-life from first training to highest education; but there is nothing in the way of direct teaching that will ever have so wide and lasting an effect as the atmosphere of home. And the gravest thought concerning this is that in this instance there is nothing to learn and nothing to teach: the atmosphere emanates from ourselves–literally is ourselves; our children live in it and breathe it, and what we are is thus incorporated into them. There is no pretence here or possibility of evasion; we may deceive ourselves: in the long run, we never deceive our children. The spirit of home lives, and, what is more, [home atmosphere], is accentuated in them. Atmosphere is much more than teaching, and infinitely more than talk.

The Atmosphere of Home” by M. F. Jerrold Parent’s Review Volume 8, no. 12, 1897, pgs. 772-777

 

Atmosphere isn’t a “child-environment” that we can create. It “emanates from ourselves—literally is ourselves; our children live in it and breathe it, and what we are is thus incorporated into them.” So how do we go about building an atmosphere that we want our children to live and breathe?

Mason repeats the aphorism that if we ‘Sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; a character, reap a destiny.’ Volume 2 p. 29

Our destiny, our life, the Atmosphere of Our Home is dependent on daily actions. We make the choice. We begin again. We do the next right thing. Habits are grown, a character established. We become more and more who we were meant to be.

Mason continues, “And a great function of the educator is to secure that acts shall be so regularly, purposefully, and methodically sown that the child [and all persons!] shall reap the habits of the good life, in thinking and doing, with the minimum of conscious effort.” p. 29

Yes, we want a home of beauty. We want to “lead them in ways of order, propriety, and virtue, instead of leaving their wheel of life to make ugly ruts in miry places.”

But we need the habits, the disciplines, to make the atmosphere. The atmosphere depends on the habits; the habits are motivated by atmosphere. Atmosphere and discipline go hand-in-hand.

I noticed a small example of this in the past few weeks.

At the end of each day, we would have a big mess of books, notebooks, pencils, and papers strewn on the floor, chairs, and table of our school room. Most days I’d find the time before dinner to tidy it all up. But it irked me! Why was I continually picking up after everyone? And then, the days that I didn’t get to tidy up, led to mornings when we were ready to start school, but then had to tidy. Where was the order, propriety, and virtue?!

This was one of those areas that I took to Barnes and Noble with me. I tried to understand our current habits: when school was done, we were done. By the end of the school morning, everyone was tired. We were often getting ready for an afternoon activity and I felt there was no time to pick up. But more than all of that I realized that the system for putting our things away, just wasn’t working! Since I’ve now combined my children into one curriculum and schedule, rather than keeping everyone in separate years, I thought it would be simpler to keep like-notebooks together. We had separate piles for geography notebooks, narration journals, science notebooks, math journals, nature journals, TBG books, and song books. That’s a lot of piles!!! And we would stack these piles on top of each other. You can imagine the mess that ensued, especially when we needed a pile from the bottom of the pile! I had really thought that this way was the simplest, but it led to “ugly ruts in miry places.” I knew I didn’t want four different book baskets cluttering the room, so I went ahead and bought these fabric bins. At $3.45 a piece, they were a good, quick solution. And it has worked. Everyone keeps all of their own notebooks and supplies in their own bin. At the end of the school day, we simply put the bins back on the shelf! We changed our habit and the atmosphere of our school room improved! The atmosphere led to a better school day—we started on time, we wasted less time, we finished easily. Emma, the 5 year-old, declared to everyone that she was “going to organize her bin perfectly” and everyone had to follow suit! Later, she declared she wanted to keep her own glue stick, colored pencils, paints, ruler, and scissors in her bin and everyone had to follow suit! There were even less piles for me to manage. One habit, led to another, led to another. We became clean, orderly, neat, regular, and punctual again.

It reminds me of the proverb, “For Want of a Nail.”

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

 

 

For want of a bin, a habit was lost.

For the want of a habit, the school room was lost.

For want of a school room, atmosphere was lost.

For want of atmosphere, education suffered and a mother was at her wit’s end!

 

Are we Snells the only ones whose days can unravel like this?!

Getting Outside: The Outdoor Life Series

Problem: “But they get Dirty!”

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Okay, you take your kids outside and they have a blast rolling down a hill, exploring a creek, and making mud pies. You love that the hours flew so quickly and everyone had so much fun until…you get home.

You have a pile of muddy shoes, muddy jeans, and muddy kids!

It’s enough to make you stay home next time. Or should it?

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  1. Did you know that dirt is good for your children’s health? Studies show that dirt builds your child’s immune system. *

 

  1. Did you know that dirt is good for your child’s emotional well-being? Studies now show that direct contact with soil improves mood and reduce anxiety. Another study showed that there is good bacteria in dirt which activate neurons in the brain to release serotonin, much in the same manner as anti-depressants and exercise. *

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  1. Did you know that this kind of play builds children who are “vital and vigorous, full of living interests, available and serviceable? ” How does Mason suggest we do this? Facilitating our children’s relationship with nature.

She continues,

“There are, what I may call, dynamic relations to be established. He must stand and walk and run and jump with ease and grace. He must skate and swim and ride and drive, dance and row and sail a boat. He should be able to make free with his mother earth and to do whatever the principle of gravitation will allow. This is an elemental relationship for the lack of which nothing compensates.” Volume 3 p. 80

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  1. Did you know that this kind of play builds confidence and mastery?

Another elemental relationship, which every child should be taught and encouraged to set up, is that of power over material. Every child makes sand castles, mud-pies, paper boats, and he or she should go on to work in clay, wood, brass, iron, leather, dress-stuffs, food-stuffs, furnishing-stuffs. He should be able to make with his hands and should take delight in making.” Volume 3 p. 80.

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What we need are clothes and shoes we don’t mind getting dirty and a plan for when we get home.

  • Where do muddy shoes go?
  • Where do muddy clothes go?
  • Where do muddy kids go?
  • Where do water bottles go?
  • Where do nature journals go?

 

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This post is part of our “Getting outside: An Outdoor Life Series”.

 

 

Getting Outside: An Outdoor Life Series

Problem: Getting Mom Outside!

This week we are beginning a new series to encourage us in our pursuit of an “outdoor life.” I thought there was no better place to start then on motivating us as mothers to go outside! In the future, we hope to cover a range of topics on why we should spend time in nature, what to do when we are there and solutions to some of the things that keep us inside. So to begin, 6 reasons for Moms to go outside.

“I make a point, says a judicious mother, of sending my children out, weather permitting, for an hour in the winter, and two hours a day in the summer months. That is well; but it is not enough. In the first place, do not send them; if it is anyway possible, take them; for, although the children should be left much to themselves, there is a great deal to be done and a great deal to be prevented during these long hours in the open air. And long hours they should be; not two, but four, five, or six hours they should have on every tolerably fine day, from April till October. Impossible! Says an overwrought mother who sees her way to no more for her children than a daily hour or so on the pavements of the neighbouring London squares. Let me repeat, that I venture to suggest, not what is practicable in any household, but what seems to me absolutely best for the children; and that, in the faith that mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them.” P. 43-44

Do you struggle to get outside with your children? We want them to grow in fortitude but we ourselves complain of the heat, the cold, the bugs! There are also so many other things we could be doing: laundry, catching up on email, cleaning, napping, making dinner…we might even drum up work rather than get outside—“I know that drawer has been messy since we moved into the house, but now is the moment to tackle it!”

Why should we do it?

1. My children love it when I do. They are happy if I just park myself nearby in a chair with a book or my bullet journal. They stop by to show me discoveries and there are lots of “Hey mom, watch this!”

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Our boys showing-off!

2. Getting outside for a small chunk of time daily and for big chunk of time weekly forces (or inspires!) me to work diligently and efficiently. As Mason says, “mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them.” So to get outside, I may have to prep dinner during lunch or get it in the crockpot in the morning. I might need to get up early to answer emails before the day gets going. I know I can’t spend time dawdling on facebook and pinterest. I must remember to get the laundry going and change it over right away, (rather than letting it sit in the washing machine for hours!), so it is done before our afternoon out-of-doors. Nicole Williams at Sabbath Mood Homeschool has a very inspiring post along these lines.

3. We must remember how good it is for us. Yes, we have a million things to do, but moms are people too and the fresh air and the natural world are good for us, body and soul. I often complain that I am stressed or tired, but then don’t take the time to rest, when given the opportunity. Being outside gives my body a chance to relax and my brain a chance to sort itself out. Just be sure to keep your phone in your bag, so you’re not tempted to check email or the app that temps you most! The more we do it, the more we see the fruit of it.

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Camille the fire-master!

4. It’s important for mom to play too. There has been a lot of research and attention given to the need for adults to play: we stay younger, healthier when we do!

Here’s a few links: the psychological case for play and the importance of play in adulthood  and a TED Talk Play is more than fun!

5. On the other hand, there is more to outside time then play, as Mason says in the quote above, “for, although the children should be left much to themselves, there is a great deal to be done and a great deal to be prevented during these long hours in the open air.”

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This was the one of the few pictures of me outside that I could find on my computer!

And what is it we are to accomplish?

“…. here is the mother’s opportunity to train the seeing eye, the hearing ear, and to drop seeds of truth into the open soul of the child, which shall germinate, blossom, and bear fruit ….” Volume 1 p. 44-45

  1. This is our chance to learn all about nature for those nature lessons later in the week or down the road! I’ve had many moms tell me they can’t do nature study with their children because they don’t know nature themselves. While our children play, we can draw in our nature journals, work on identifying birds, trees, and plants, and bring along a nature lore book for ourselves.

So let’s do it this week! Schedule what time each day you’ll be going out for a short time and pick one day to dedicate a few hours for outdoor play. Come back and tell us how it went!

Also, we want to know what keeps you from getting outside? Are their any topics you’d like us to cover in this new series?

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SPACES TO THINK NO. 9

We are all mere creatures of habit.

We think our accustomed thoughts,

make our usual small talk,

go through the trivial round,

the common task,

without any self-determining effort of will at all.

If it were not so––if we had to think, to deliberate, about each operation of the bath or the table––life would not be worth having; the perpetually repeated effort of decision would wear us out…

What we can do for [our children] is to secure that they have habits which shall lead them in ways of order, propriety, and virtue, instead of leaving their wheel of life to make ugly ruts in miry places.

When we first hear of Mason’s Habit Formation, it perhaps seems to us some new, exciting external apparatus or tool to apply to our lives. We ask, what new habit should I try to obtain? What new habits do my children need?

This way of setting about things can make life very difficult and discouraging!

Instead, I think we must remember, as Mason tells us, that we are “all mere creatures of habit.” All is habit! Some of our habits are good, some are unhelpful. A better approach than trying to add new habits (like new resolutions) might be to think on how we can actually change our current habits into good or better ones.


We want to “secure that [our children] have habits which shall lead them in ways of order, propriety, and virtue, instead of leaving their wheel of life to make ugly ruts in miry places.” (Volume 1 p.111)

Last week was the half way point of our term and I was sick. It seemed best to just call it Fall Break, I was doing such a poor job of keeping up with things. Sick and tired all our efforts seemed “ugly ruts in miry places.”


So what to do?

I headed with baby to a coffee shop and a notebook to brainstorm how to climb out of the miry place! Well, I knew I wanted to fix things, but how? First, I needed encouragement, because I felt none. What was going well? What was working? What were our good habits? I made a list that grew and grew…it surprised me! Things weren’t so bad, after all.

  • We were starting school on time…
  • The new time-table was a delightful feast…
  • Combining my children into one booklist, rather than 4 different levels was bringing so many good fruits…

On and On…


With that encouragement I faced the ugly ruts and made a second list…

What wasn’t going well? What wasn’t working? What bad habits had we established?

  • The messy table at the end of the school day…
  • Burning out by lunch time and not feeling like doing “afternoon occupations”…
  • Scrambling to make dinner each night…

On and on…

And then a second cup of tea, a cinnamon scone and a third list…solutions!

When it was all set out like that I could see clearly our current habits and the way to move forward. We had habits, some needed tweaking, some needed to be paced differently, some needed help.

I could also see what “problems” were anomalies due to my not feeling well and lack of sleep and would fix themselves in due time and other problems that could become the new normal, if I didn’t set a new course.

Taking the “space to think” about how it was all going made such a difference. So, for your “space to think” this week, I encourage you to try thinking about how your day is going with your children.

“…whether you choose or no to take any trouble about the formation of habits, it is habit all the same which will govern ninety-nine one hundredths of [your] life…” p. 110


This post is part of our Friday series: “Spaces to Think” You can read the others here.

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SPACES TO THINK NO. 8 GETTING OUTSIDE

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So glad to be running free!

“Never be within doors when you can rightly be without. Besides, the gain of an hour or two in the open air, there is this to be considered: meals taken al fresco are usually joyous… All the time, too, the children are storing up memories of a happy childhood. Fifty years hence they will see the shadows of the boughs making patterns on the white tablecloth; and sunshine, children’s laughter, hum of bees, and scent of flowers are being bottled up for after refreshment.” -Charlotte Mason, Vol. 2, p. 43

 

Camille shared this quote on Wednesday with us and it was the one I had planned for today too!

Did you know that “on average, children now spend less time outdoors than a prison inmate”?

Exploring a new pond. We saw a Heron, a Northern Water Snake, Fish, Turtles, and an Eel!

Isn’t that shocking?

A perfect spot for “Picture-Making”

Watch the 2 minute documentary video from the Dirt is Good Initiative and then find time to be outside with your children this weekend!

And remember, as one guard in the video tells us, ““If you don’t have to throw the kids in the bathtub, they haven’t played hard enough”! (Real blogging would be to show you the disaster of our bathtub after this excursion!)

The Dirt is Good website (scroll down for more articles) is chock full of information on why getting outside is essential for our health and well-being. The National Wildlife Federation also has a great website with lots of information to inspire you to just go outside! The science proves what Mason recognized so long ago:

 In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mother’s first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, the waking part of it spent for the most part out in the fresh air. And this, not for the gain in bodily health alone––body and soul, heart and mind, are nourished with food convenient for them when the children are let alone, let to live without friction and without stimulus amongst happy influences which incline them to be good. -Volume 1 p. 44

Even baby enjoyed  being outside and then took a nice nap in her carrier!


What do you think? Are your kids outside enough? What keeps you inside? What outdoor activities will you be doing this weekend?

 

This post is part of our Friday series: “Spaces to Think” You can read the others here.