A Back-to-Homeschool Party (with literary visitors!)

Do you know what I never shared in 2016?

Last year’s back-to-school party!!

How forgetful of me!

It’s never too late, though, and so I’ll tell you now that on a special Friday in September, we celebrated our annual back-to-school bash, which just so happens to be one of my most favorite days of the year.

Back-to-school reads something like Christmas round these parts, but instead of candy canes and toys and hot chocolate decking our halls, there are apples and books and 1% milk in vintage milk jugs.

I don’t know if the kids feel like this is a second Christmas, but I sure do.

This small party is the way I personally enjoy passing out all of our new books and school supplies, our wardrobes for the next season (I’m serious about clothing, y’all), and is my one big attempt to get our little family, including myself, excited about learning in the context of our home academy.

Normally, I have each child’s secret stash set out at their spot at the table, but last year, I wanted to do a little something different with our routine, something that would throw an unexpected bit of magic into our party.

So my idea was to find four literary characters — characters who are important to each of my children — who would be willing to stop periodically by our house at the time of our party to deliver each child their box of goods.

Of course, there IS that one problem of literary characters not actually being real.

So my next plan was to find four actors who would be willing to PLAY literary characters who would stop periodically by our house at the time of our party to deliver each child their box of goods.

Of course, there is that one problem of us living in a small town and being far from all the big towns — we might have a lot of drama, but we don’t DO a lot of drama — and, though I did discuss this plan with a beloved former teacher who heads up the drama team at the high school, I knew this was a major MAJOR long shot, especially with the short notice I was providing.

It just wasn’t going to happen.

Thankfully, at close to the last minute, a new — and much more reasonable! — plan materialized, with no actors, costumes, or physical literary characters necessary, why?

Because our literary friends were going to visit our party in the delightful old-fashioned way…

through snail mail!!!

The day of the party, letters for each child were quickly penned, and their supplies were gathered into a big box, taped up, wrapped with brown paper, addressed, stamped, and stacked up in a secret place to be distributed  by a mysterious delivery man (Mr. Gore) during the party.

For “stamps”, I went…nay! I ran!! this was SO last minute!!…online and found a picture of each child’s literary friend, printed it off, and glued it to the top-right corner of their box, serving nicely as a fun little clue about who their box was from.

By the way, I was plumb GIDDY when it came to this part of the party execution, for this sort of whimsy is the stuff of life that causes my hands to shake in glee and excitement.

Does that make me super cool or super dorky?

Let’s go with super cool.

Now. Who wants to join us for a back-to-homeschool PARTY???

(I can tell by your enthusiastic response that you are super cool, too.)


Can I just say one more time how last minute this party was? I threw all our new books on the table, I slapped a school-ish message on the chalkboard and voila! An easy back-to-school party.


Decorating for school parties is so easy. Apples…milk…vintage school bells…

sniffle, sniffle. I LOVE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL!!!img_1594

These darling cookies just happened to be available at Merritt’s Bakery in Tulsa, totally saving my day. I didn’t have time to make cookies! I had fanciful letters to write from literary characters!


This was a big year for us. We finally took the plunge into the world of electronic devices, buying a couple of Kindles for our homeschool. The kiddos went bananas over them.


I went bananas over the books and the freshly sharpened pencils. ❤


Now on to the really fun part!!!

Hidden in the sunroom were each of the kids’ packages, each containing an encouraging letter from their literary friend.

To our baby boy from his FAVORITE friend, Little Bear:


To our youngest daughter from her pal, Mother Goose:


To our eldest daughter from her bosom friend, Anne Shirley:


And to our eldest son, from one throne warden to another, from Artham Wingfeather:


Oh! We also had a surprise visitor from the REAL world that day, my daddy, who stopped by on his way home from work. Methinks he knew there were cookies about.img_1599

I joked with my Facebook friends that this picture reminds of the famous scene from “Little Women” where the March girls are clustered around Marmee to read the letter from Father, except, in this scene, the children are teaching their granddaddy how to play Subway Surfer. How quaint.




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After we had enjoyed our cookies and milk (and coffee for Mama and Grandmother), the doorbell rang.

(Are you as excited as I am???)

The kids ran to the door to see who it was, but alas, the only thing there was a package!

It was for Sheppy!!

He sort of FREAKED OUT when he saw the “stamp” with Little Bear on it, and I knew then that we were in for a fun party.



A card from Little Bear himself! I have to say, we were in a major time crunch when it came to readying for this party, and the letters written on the FLY. It made me especially happy, then, to have Little Bear as one of our guests, for he, too, is just learning to write and composes the simplest of letters.



After our littlest had had ample time to look over his new box of school goodies, the doorbell rang again, this time for our youngest girl!



A handwritten card from Mother Goose?!

Okay, now I’m a little jealous.

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Before long, the doorbell rang AGAIN, and the kids were starting to catch on. This box HAD to be for our eldest daughter, they just knew it!






I’ve got to say, writing a letter from the one and only ANNE SHIRLEY was a tall order. I needed more time to think and get my words in order! And then I needed more words!! My hand was cramping by the time I finished this missive, but the result was worth it…




That just left one more surprise delivery, this time for our firstborn.



Reading the Wingfeather Saga with our oldest two had been a year-long journey for our family, and the whole concept of the throne-warden resonated deeply not only with our eldest son, but with all of us. This letter, penned by Mr. Gore, made me a little teary-eyed.

Then AND now.

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We hope that Andrew Peterson will forgive us for spelling Artham’s name wrong. Did I mention that we were in a hurry??




‘Twas a magical day, through and through, one that lives sweetly in my memory and continues to fuel our family as we pursue a life of education at home.

Perhaps some favorite literary characters will visit your children this year? Who will you choose?


Thank you for reading today! To keep up with Mrs. Gore and family, follow us on Facebook or Instagram!


The Majors of Homeschooling

majors of homeschooling

With a new school year upon us, I want to steal a few minutes between lunch and tonight’s VBS to talk about some important things I’ve learned about homeschooling in the last four years.

And the fact that we are in our fifth day of VBS should mean you will show me some grace, won’t you, should the words and the thinking and the processing not work for me?

I’m the music director, and a girl can only hear those same catchy songs so many times before her brain erupts into a gurgling stream of nonsensicality…

I shall do my best, though, to bring to you what I feel are important components of homeschooling without losing my wordage stuff.

So let’s get started!

When you first start out in the homeschooling world, you tend to focus more on the minors. The question: “What do we need to run a homeschool?” brought different answers to my mind four years ago than it does today. I was desperate in those days to simply find a curriculum I liked, some sensory toys and puzzles, some educational videos, and DEFINITELY some vintage lunchtrays.

Today, I still like all those things…curriculum is good, toys and games are fun, videos are helpful, and lunchtrays are ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL…but it is increasingly dawning on me that what I have always most needed to run a happy and successful school-at-home — the MAJORS, if you will — cannot be purchased at Mardel’s homeschool sale. Or, alas, even at Etsy.

In fact, they’re quite free.

And, in our home, they are absolutely essential; when I get the following things right, the “minors” fall nicely into place.

This list might vary from person to person, but the things that I’ve realized Mrs. Gore’s Home Academy NEEDS to stay open are as follows:

1.A belief in what I am doing.

I have been at very low points as a homeschooler when I am not valuing, deep down, the basic importance of education for my children.  Simple as that. Without seminars and daily peer encouragement from others who are enthusiastic about education, it is easy to become lost in the daily grind of checking off boxes and keeping the housework afloat and to completely forget WHY you’re doing what you are doing.

And when you forget WHY you are doing it, you can look up one day to realize that the “school” part of your homeschool has almost been lost. You’re not really schooling your kids, so much, as you are just keeping them at home.

If you are going to choose this route of home education, I think it is really important to develop a sturdy philosophy behind your decision, which will include some education for yourself about…well, education!

And in this discovery of “why”, I encourage you to get beyond the boxes that you’ve lived in all your life. Don’t just settle on educating your children because this is America and education is what is done with children. Don’t just do it because your kid is five and when you were five you learned the alphabet so you should probably teach your kid the alphabet.

Step back and observe bigger pictures. WHY is education so important, in the first place? How will “being educated” really serve your kids? What is the purpose in all this?!

There are many great philosophies out there, and you can draw from any or all of them, but Charlotte Mason has played a big role in my own philosophy. Her teachings just make sense to me, and I agree with her in almost every regard, which means that I can employ her tactics with a heart that truly cares about what I am doing.

It doesn’t take much to develop a genuine passion for your homeschooling operation and can be as simple as reading a good book — or even an article! — about why education is important.

On the brink of our 5th year as a homeschooling family, I understand now that I can’t homeschool because my friends are doing it. I can’t do it because it is popular in my denomination. I can’t do it because I’m scared to send my kids to public school.

I’ve got to do it because I believe in it, or I’ll not have the stamina to stick with it for the long haul.

2. A full-time job mentality.

Okay, this one has been a big deal in our house. It didn’t take me too long as a homeschooler to realize that, in order to maintain a constant atmosphere of learning in our home, I was going to have to make a job out of it.

In other words, my BELIEF in what I was doing (see: above) was going to have to dictate how I spent my day in a very intentional way.

Homeschooling is very simple in the beginning…as simple, really, as learning the ABC’s and counting to 10 and reading “Little Bear” and Mother Goose..but, like me, eventually you will arrive at the point where you have to make a real, life-altering choice: who is more important? Me or the kids? My Facebook account or our read-aloud time? My late wake-up hour or my son’s understanding of mathematics?

It has become ever more clear to me that I can’t live like a stay-at-home mom whose kids go to school outside of the home and still run a smooth and vibrant homeschool. That sounds obvious, right, but…sometimes we try to live that way!

And since I personally need rigid guidelines to keep me from floating adrift, this meant serious changes in our household. An early wake-up time which calls for an earlier bedtime (wahh!!!). A strict “no internet in the morning” policy. A phone going straight to messages because, from the hours of 8 – 12, I am at work. And then again from the hours of 1 – 3.

Use your imagination, here. What is it like for people who work outside of the home? Sure, part of the greatness about homeschooling is we don’t HAVE to live like people who work outside of the home…we can be flexible! we can learn as we LIVE! we can take our workbooks and do school on the way to the splash park!…but we can take a few tips from the professional world.

My daddy doesn’t sit in his truck and talk on the phone all day. He doesn’t scroll through the internet every 30 minutes, looking for updates. He doesn’t watch television, ever. From the hours of 7-3, he’s at work. I want the same to be true of me, even though I’m at home! From the hours of 8-3, I’m at work, doing worky things, dying to my previous life of non-work.

This sort of mentality makes ALL the difference in a homeschooling day and ensures that I am leaving my family open to endless outlets of education.

The great thing about this is, it doesn’t mean that you have to have your day rigidly scheduled. It just means that, for the most part, your head and your heart are dedicated to your homeschooling operation. You are “on the clock”, ready to read aloud, ready to answer questions, ready to train and teach and inspire.

3. Motivation and encouragement.

Oh my goodness…

I just want to start cackling hysterically when I contemplate what a lone ranger I was when I opened the doors to our homeschool in the fall of 2012.

I had read a few books, sure…two, to be exact…but…thaaaaaat’s about it. The daughter of public school, myself, and a college graduate with a degree that had nothing to do with education, especially of the childhood sort, I had only the vaguest ideas of what homeschooling even looked like and NO idea of how I was supposed to accomplish this gargantuan task of educating four children alone.

Since that time, not surprisingly, my homeschooling career has been a pretty repetitive routine of “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again.”

That ALL drastically changed earlier this year when I discovered — far too late, in my opinion!! — the Read-Aloud Revival, a bustling website chock-full of resources and motivation for the homeschooling mom.

When I first watched Sarah Mackenzie’s Periscope series on “How We Homeschool”, I was blown away by the ideas she shared. Here were simple things I had never even thought of, things that would make my life so much easier!

And then I started listening to the podcast, episode by episode, and it began to dawn on me, in levels, how crazy I had been to tackle this lifestyle without seeking out an education of my own, followed by frequent…and I mean FREQUENT…inspiration.

After I listen to a podcast on education, I am inspired. I have excitement in my heart to do what I’ve been doing, but to do it with vigor. I have POWER, because knowledge is power and the more moms and experts I hear from, the more ideas I have to draw from and the more capable I am to handle all the bumps that come up in our day.

I just had no idea how terribly thirsty I was to be taught. To have someone lead me. To have a voice in my ear, spurring me on.

If you are feeling shriveled up and alone in your homeschooling world, I would suggest that you are in need of food. Feed yourself by finding a cheerleader, whether that comes in a website, podcast, co-op, or mentor. There is simply no reason in our modern and connected world to feel alone in this. Which leads me to my next point…

4. A teachable spirit.

The fastest way, I think, to wind up in the homeschool graveyard is to think you’ve got it all figured out.

It’s easy, since these are your own children you are educating, to feel a weird temptation to put on an “I’ve got this all covered” front. I birthed these children. I keep them groomed. I’ve had them vaccinated. I CAN HOMESCHOOL THEM.

Now, I’m no psychologist, but perhaps…maybe?…we carry around this facade of capability because we are deep down kind of terrified that we are going to mess our kids up?!?! I know I have harbored that fear, too many times to count.

But listen, most of us don’t have teaching degrees. Most of us don’t know the first thing about teaching kids to read, write and do arithmetic. Most of us are homeschooling from a compelling conviction in our hearts more than a background in home education.

And that’s okay!

What is not okay is never admitting that we need assistance. Or forging ahead with our noses in the air because we don’t want anyone out there to know we are weak, or scared. Or keeping blinders on our eyes to the abundance of help, service and mentorship out there.

It seems counter-intuitive to our stubborn hearts, but we do ourselves — and our families — a world of good when we stop and say, at least to ourselves, “You know what? I don’t really know what I’m doing here. I NEED HELP!”

Believe me, help is out there. It might be from your homeschooling neighbor who has tried a different curriculum, a homeschooling veteran who knows her stuff (I love homeschool veterans. I NEED homeschool veterans!), a husband who might gladly take a class off your hands if he knew you were this close to losing it, a church lady who would help you clean your house once a month, or even from a refreshing book like Sarah Mackenzie’s “Teaching from Rest”. (a link to the book will be at the end of this post!).

Whether you have to actually leave your house to find this help is up to you, but one thing is necessary in the equation: humility.

Humility in homeschooling bring waves of refreshment to the heart that has grown weary of pretending to be masterful. It will keep you from comparing other homeschoolers to you (in an inferior kind of way), or you to other homeschoolers (in a superior kind of way). It will keep you from trying to force things that aren’t working for your family. It will keep you from living in fear when you could be discovering the world, with the joy of a forever student! And it will most certainly keep you on your knees.

When you start with a humble heart, your homeschool can only go UP.

5. A custom plan for YOUR family.

Dear ones, if you listen to one thing I say today, please make it this one.

A crucial turning point for our homeschool took place when I pulled all the square pegs out of the round holes I had been shoving them in and actually developed a plan that worked for our family.

Tell me, when it is time to plan for our kids’ wardrobes, do we go online and print off another family’s list and try to make it work for our family?

No, because that would be weird.

They might have more kids than we do, and we’d wind up with more clothes than we needed. They might have fewer kids, and we’d not have enough clothes to dress our family. They might have all girls when we have all boys. Or they might have a girl, boy, boy, girl, when we have a boy, girl, girl, boy. Their sizes would be different. Their climate would be different. Their budget would be different. Their style preferences would be different!

The same is true for a homeschool.

Going online and printing off someone else’s daily schedule can give you guidance, and buying a pre-planned curriculum can be useful, but expecting them to work, verbatim, in your house is not an idea that usually pans out.

I’ll be honest, it is borrowing trouble when I line up our “home academy” to a family whose eldest is a daughter rather than a son. Or to the schedule of a family with a type-A mom at the helm. Or to the plan of a family who relies on a co-op for their schoolweek. Or to the resources of a family that lives in the city rather than a tiny town with no stoplights.

Those families are not the Gore family. And when the Gore family tries to be the So-and-So family, the Gore Mama winds up in a puddle of self-loathing that directly effects her educational prowess, her confidence, and her SANITY!!!!

Now, I will warn you, crafting a homeschool that suits your family and fits you like a glove can take time. You have to scrap some things and try again. You have to adjust with the changing seasons of life. You have to learn as you go.

But when I peeled myself away from the idea that I could find a magical print-out that would solve all of my scheduling bumps and homeschooling problems, and began building, brick by brick, an infrastructure that could cradle and nurture MY family — with our specific needs, personalities, budget, schedule, priorities, etc. — I began to really ENJOY  homeschooling, like never before.

I daresay we began to soar!

And homeschooling, with all of these MAJOR components more firmly in place than ever, has never been more gloriously doable. I’m a fan.


Wow, I tried to keep that short, but there you have it! There are many more homeschool majors in my life, including the Holy Spirit and a good support system, but these are the five things that I wanted to focus on today. Is there anything you would put on your “majors” list? Did any of these principles resonate with you? Please share below! And if you want to hang out with me on Facebook and hear funny stories and go shopping and have tickle fights, find our page here!

And find Sarah Mackenzie’s “Teaching From Rest” from my affiliated link by clicking on the picture below. I love this book, and I know you will too!

First Day of the Month Books and Activities: an easy routine for a memorable year

first day of the month

The following blog post contains affiliated links. Purchasing items through my links will bring me a small commission at no extra cost to you, a win for both of us! Clicking on the pictures in this post will take you to the books at Amazon.


Hi homeschoolers! I told you almost a year ago that I’d be back “tomorrow” to fill you in on the second half of (last year’s) first-day-of-school celebration.

So here I am. One year later. Funny how “tomorrow” is flexible like that. 😉

I actually DID start on this blog post last year, just so we can all feel better about me, but I never, somehow, got around to finishing it.

What I did finish, however, was the project that we started on our first day of school last year! It’s actually kind of nice to come to you, from the future, sort of, to tell you that this was a project that actually worked and served our family well. As a blogger and social media sharer, what can often happen is that you try a new schedule or launch a new idea or try a different organizational tool and you’re really excited about it and you do a write-up over how GREAT and FUN your new plan is and how your homeschool or your life or your homemaking has never run so smoothly…

and then, roughly ten minutes after you publish it and share it with your readership, you fall off the wagon and never follow that schedule again. Or you never cook again. Or all your “organized” stuff explodes all over the house again.

For two weeks, though, you were really killing it!

THIS little exercise, however, is something I can truly testify about. We did it!! For an entire year!!

So let’s jump back to last year’s first day of school: since our entire morning had been dedicated to passing out school supplies and going over our new schedules, we didn’t actually plunge in to our new school schedule until our SECOND day of school.

Instead, we spent the afternoon doing a laid-back study on “September”.

This was an extremely simple exercise, something that we could easily accomplish on the first day of every month. I am not a crafter and I’m not good at keeping up with a bunch of stuff, so the fact that all I needed to complete this tradition every month was some card stock paper and some markers was GOOD.

And since I love seasons, myself, my enthusiasm fueled this project, which I personally believe is the key to the staying power we all long for in our routines; spending this time with the kids made me feel all tingly inside, contemplating the joys of the month ahead, and it was actually something I looked forward to rather than dreaded.

I really want my children to be aware of God’s master plan for a full year, the changing seasons, and the order and traditions that make up a year of worship and life together. It’s important to me, and if you are like-minded in this regard, this might be a routine that works for you, as well!

So here’s what we did, not just on the first day of last year’s schoolyear, but every month since then.

First, we (and by “we” I mean an 8-year old, a 6-year old and a 4-year old. Baby brother was napping!) gathered up all of our months-of-the-year books, we clustered around the table, and we read excerpts from each one about the month of September. Here are the books we use, every month, in this order, reading ONLY that month’s section…

I ADORE this Berenstain Bears’ “Big Book of Science and Nature”. It is hilarious, and a pure delight from cover to cover. The seasons and months…along with many, many other things…are covered in fun detail in this book, and my kids love it as much as I do.

“The Year at Maple Hill Farm” is quirky and fun, and full of education about life on a farm, month by month. The illustrations in this book are awesome, and the kids just stare at the page until their imaginations are full up.

And don’t even get me STARTED on Tasha Tudor.

This book, “A Time to Keep” makes my heart ache. I love it, love it, love it. As soon as I finish this post, I’m going to call my mom and ask her if we can do a “Doll Fair” like Tasha Tudor describes in her September remembrances. In fact, someday I’d like to copy all the traditions from this book, for a whole year! Maybe I’ll even blog about them. Let’s plan on doing that “tomorrow” why don’t we? 😉

This is also a good time to pull out any seasonal or holiday books that you have in your collection and, even if you don’t have time to read them in this moment, you can show the kids what they are and where they will be for later reading pleasure.

Next, after reading all about September, I stood up at the chalkboard and wrote “SEPTEMBER” across the top. We spent the next twenty minutes or so writing out all the things we would be doing in September, we listed all the important birthdays, and then we started listing all the things we’d like to do. This was good as it helped give me an idea of what traditions were personally important to each of my kids. In October, for instance, it came out during this time that Betsie “hadn’t ever got to bob for anything“, and I made a mental note to bob for apples before the month was up. Which we did and which Betsie SO dearly loved.

Finally, after talking about our personal traditions and birthdays, we made September art.

This was so simple it might make your head spin.

I pulled out a piece of white card stock for each kid. I set a bucket of crayons and a bucket of markers in front of them. I then instructed each child to write the name of the month at the top of their page, followed by a picture that would make them think of that month, whether it was something from the books we just read, or something they really LOVE about the month.


When the children were finished, their pictures were clothespin’d onto the string we have hanging across our schoolroom window, serving as seasonal artwork that we got to enjoy for the entire month!


When the next month’s page was completed, the previous page was taken down from the window and put into a folder on our shelf.

We have one month to go and then I’ll fetch all of our creations from the folder and make a little book for each kid of their entire year of months! Easy peasy, yes? I’m not going to lie: aside from afternoon freestyle watercoloring, this is about the full extent of the craft-time in our home. And it’s enough!

Also of note: I would have no problem doing this routine year after year. It is something you can only build upon as your children grow and develop their art skills and their ear for listening to poetry or excerpts from literature. Someday, this might even be the day that I pull out our seasonal decorations and we’ll all ‘deck the halls” together!

You get the idea, though: set aside the first schoolday of each month to read about, talk about, learn about and dream about the month to come. 


Have any other months-of-the-year books to add to the line-up? Or any ideas for first-day-of-the-month activities? Shout them out in the comments section! For more on the Gore family and our school at home, find us on Facebook or on our main blog, Mrs. Gore’s Diary.

Amy’s Awesome Back-to-School Lunch

I shared this picture over at the Facebook page, but it is so awesome I had to give it its own blog post.

Amy was sharing pictures of her kids’ first day of school, and they were so sweet, but I needed to see a close-up of the sandwich I noticed at the bottom of one of the pictures and I needed to see it IMMEDIATELY.

So Amy sent me this.


And then I fainted because it was so cute!!!

I want to go to Amy’s homeschool.

Yo, Amy! 1. Can you give us details on this sandwich? 2. What about the pencil? 3. Those are Cheeze-its right? With the letters on them? 4. Why are you so perfect and wonderful? 5. You carved that A+ in the apple by hand, didn’t you? Because you can whittle, too? 6. Can I live with you?

Our First Day – 2015

Did anyone else forget that I had a homeschool blog?

Because I sort of did.

In fact, I even unknowingly let the subscription on this site run out, and if it hadn’t been for a sweet reader who let me know, “Mrs. Gore’s Home Academy” might have wound up in the graveyard of maintained-no-more blogs.

However, just because my homeschool blog has suffered from lack of attention and care, our actual homeschool is still very much alive and kicking.

In fact, as Gideon is entering 3rd grade, Rebekah 1st grade, and Betsie Pre-K, I daresay our operation is growing more intense and structured than ever.

And when I say “more intense and structured”, what I mean is we’re REALLY trying to have school every day.




ANYHOW, as I was telling a friend this week, as my children grow older and the reality of their education grows more pressing, I am finally realizing that this homeschool gig is a truly full-time job and that I can’t just putter around and hope the kids absorb knowledge from the drywall.

I HAVE to dedicate my days, morning till night, to this endeavor. I have to make it a tippy-top priority in my life. I have to be faithful and dependable and hard-working, from the start of the year to its end.

And, so far — one week in, please hold your applause — that goal is being gloriously fulfilled.

We have new schedules, a new philosophy (we’ve gone off the curriculum grid, y’all! Yikes!), and a new structure, all of which I intend to tell you about…

but we all know I probably won’t and that, in a year, someone will message me and say “Did you know your homeschool blog is gone?…”

Sorry, in advance.

SO. We started our new school year on Monday last, and I thought you’d like to see 2015’s back-to-school party.

Another apology-in-advance: I did a filter on one picture and then the post didn’t look right until I put a filter on ALL the pictures. Can’t stop, won’t stop.

If you’re looking for a simple way to kick off a new school year, I can’t recommend this simple set-up enough. After the kids went to bed Sunday night, I set out all their new supplies and gifts, I set the table, and I wrote out our schedule for the day.

HOW I love setting up parties when the house is asleep…


Behind each child’s stack of goodies was a small cork board with their name on it. I love them because you can move them all over the place rather than having a big one nailed to the wall. (Find a link to these at the bottom of this post).

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Here’s Gideon’s stash!

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and here’s the whole set-up. In the giftbags was a small collection of new Fall clothes, because we all know that you can’t have a first day of school, homeschool or not, without having a fantastic new outfit.

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This annual back-to-school party, whether we celebrate it in the morning or afternoon, has become one of the highlights of our year!

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For breakfast, we had pancakes, bacon, and fruit.


You can find the milk carafes at Pottery Barn by clicking here.

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Here’s Rebekah, my snaggle-toothed first-grade girl.

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Gideon in third grade?! SAY IT AIN’T SO!!!

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Little Shep isn’t in school yet, but he is a big fan of breakfast.

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And here’s Betsie Fair, who ADORES school and asks to do it all the livelong day. Seriously. All. day.

“Look, Mom!” she squealed. “I made an “A” with my food!!!”

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Prayers for a good year! Ignore the little heathen at the end who keeps both his eyes AND his mouth opened during the prayer.

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Milk. Can’t have school without milk.


And now, because I love ya and because my brain is fried from organizing a WHOLE WEEK of homeschool, I’m going to stop captioning and let the pictures do the talking for a bit…

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After breaking the fast and clearing off the table, I passed out this year’s supplies. This is truly one of the greatest joys of my year – I LOVE SCHOOL STUFF!!


I have to admit, I was a little worried because I cut back a LOT this year – my goal is to read all of the books we already own instead of indulging in my usual fancy and buying boxes and boxes more – and I was afraid the kids would be disappointed.

Silly me.

It does not take much to make little ones happy. Why do we have such a hard time remembering that??


Betsie was, not surprisingly, so excited about this day. She kept running through the kitchen and peeking at all the goodies and shivering with her typical Betsie-ish anticipation.



Then there were the supplies we’ll all be sharing…new markers, new crayons, new stickers and pencils and glue. Our house smelled like a Kindergarten, which is really all I could ever ask for.


And I already shared this on Facebook, but this picture made me laugh.

I titled it “Crazy Dictionary Saleslady”.

“Hey, kidzies. Would you like to look at my dictionaries? I have more in my gingerbread house in the woods. It’s made of candy…”


And there you have it!

I’ll tell you tomorrow what the rest of our “first day” included. Spoiler alert: it was FUN.


Psst! Here’s a link to the penmanship poster we have on the wall. It’s so pretty! Click on the picture to find it:

And here are the cork tiles we have. Now that each child has one, I’m looking forward to experimenting with these.

Nature Notebooks and Budding Artists

An artist I am not…

I leaned more toward music and writing in high school, and all of my extra-curriculars were taken up with choir and creative writing; art was never “my thing”. Thus, when I kept reading about “nature notebooks” in correlation with all things Charlotte Mason, I was trepidatious, and honestly, a bit skeptical. I couldn’t imagine young children being mature enough to sit and sketch pictures of bugs and leaves and flowers.

My skepticism grew when this year’s homeschool materials called for a nature notebook and a black fine-tipped drawing marker.

“A marker?!” I thought. “There is no way my perfectionist son will be able to draw things with a marker without freaking out if he doesn’t get it right.” So I began looking for sketching pencils with erasers instead, along with some fun nature notebooks for our first year of “Exploration Friday” where we would go on walks and sketch any special findings before coming home to identify them and learn more about them.

But when you stick your toe into the world of art, it is an incredibly overwhelming place. The available supplies were endless.

Therefore, I did what I always do: bug all of the public school art teachers I know for wisdom and advice. And I was surprised by what they told me: “Whoever planned your curriculum knows what they are doing; you need to use drawing markers so your children can learn to correct their mistakes without erasing them.”

Well, what do you know? The people who write curriculum actually know more than me? Shocking.

I was humbled, and from then on, I followed the path that had been paved for me, and OH my goodness, what fun surprises I have found there.

From the day I presented the children with the nature notebooks I found for them, they have been completely on-board with “Exploration Friday”, asking all week if it is time to go for our walk and draw together. And not one tear has been shed over a drawing mistake; rather, I have watched in wonder as both children have naturally corrected any flubs or flaws in their pictures.

I paid a little extra for their notebooks, because I wanted to give them something really special that would inspire their imagination and would be a good memory for them. Don’t you remember those special school supplies that just caught your fancy and made you happy everytime you opened your desk? Plus, since we use only one sketching page per week, these should last us all year.

Here is Rebekah’s notebook (click on the picture to find it at Amazon):

And here is Gideon’s (p.s. I really, really love Eeboo products):

And these are the markers I purchased for them, at the recommendation of my art teacher heroes. They’ve been perfect!:

It was a beautiful day when we went for our first Exploration Friday adventure, and Papa was able to take off the afternoon and join us (and Jake the Puppy, too!). It was truly fun, relaxing, inspiring…everything the books said it would be.


Our exploring took place on my parents’ property, where I grew up – the possibilities for exploring here are extensive!


First we came upon a busy anthill…



then we found a most interesting Passionflower…



The children were happy to sit and sketch, and it made my heart happy to see them so content, their imaginations captured by God’s beautiful world…


Our nature walks will look different every week, and I’m sure we will miss many along the way, but this is definitely another Charlotte Mason tradition we plan to continue.



Do you use nature notebooks? How has this practice enriched your homeschool experience? Questions and comments are welcomed!

Book and Product Review: Schoolmarmee’s Honey

Homeschool is an experiment, in every sense of the word, and most usually, you don’t really know what is going to work for you and your family until you try it.

Thus, I thought it might be helpful for those of you coming behind me to share which books and products were personally worth our money and time, which ones made our hearts and imaginations soar, and which ones we would purchase all over again if we had the chance.

I have plenty of children’s book and puzzles and products to share in the days (weeks? months?) to come, but I wanted to start with the most important books in our homeschool, and those are the ones that have fed and inspired me, giving me fuel and inspiration in my educational roles of Schoolmarmee and Headmistress.

You know that feeling that bubbles up in your soul when you are reading words that resonate within you, giving conviction to the heretofore unexpressed emotions you held in your heart all along? With each passing sentence, you find yourself nodding your head, feverishly underlining nearly every word, and saying ‘yes!’ as you discover the guidance you needed to aid you in your journey…

I felt that way about each of the books I am about to share. Opening their pages was like discovering and then building upon an uncharted section of my soul, and to say that these books changed my life and paved a solid foundation for our homeschool would be an understatement.

I am sure I will discover more books along the way that will add to our home education philospophy, but you can be sure that these three will always sit upon this teacher’s desk and that I will draw and drink from them as often as possible. To find these books at Amazon, click on the provided picture.

1. A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning by Karen Andreola:

This book.

I cannot begin to describe to you the level of confidence this book gave me to embark upon my personal homeschool adventure. Not only did I find a kindred spirit in the author (our common likes are unprecedented: George M. Cohan, Beautiful Girlhood, Cheaper by the Dozen, Stepping Heavenward, picnics, nostalgia…I could go on for days), I found a gentle voice to guide me in the Charlotte Mason method of education, as well as in the art of motherhood and homemaking. Reading each chapter was like a feast for my soul, full of anedcotes, advice, and wonderfully-researched insight into the field of home education. If you want to know all about Charlotte Mason’s methods, but don’t have the time or stamina to plunge into her own writings, Karen Andreola has done all the hard work for you; a better voice of encouragement, of wisdom, or of enthusiasm simply cannot be found.

Magnanimous. That’s what she is. And if you want to know what that word means, you really must find a copy of this book and read it, posthaste!

2. For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay:

After the previous book’s glowing review, it will be difficult for this one not to sound lackluster in comparison, but if Karen Andreola’s book is my Batman, this one is my Robin, the perfect sidekick to build upon the previous book’s message. There are several reputable guides available to Charlotte Mason’s methods, and I sometimes wonder if the one you love most will be the one you read first. I read Karen Andreola’s first, and as it opened up to me a world I had the heart, but not the foresight, to imagine, it is my very favorite. That said, this wonderful and biblically-honoring book is chock-full of incredible principles for child-rearing and home education, and I found myself continually convicted and spurred on by its reading. In fact, I plan to read it again before school starts to get my mind and heart back on track, and to rekindle the fire of my educational philosophy.

3. Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt:

I have only just discovered this gem of a book, but I find that I can’t put it down! Building upon all the ideas found in the Charlotte Mason method, Gladys Hunt expounds chiefly upon the practice of making books BIG in your home, reading aloud to your children, and finding the best character-building and inspiring books on the market. I don’t know what I like best, her chapters on the philosophies behind her motivation, or the well-researched and extensive book lists she provides for every age of childhood. This book is simply a must-have on a homeschool teacher’s shelf, and provides such needed insight and inspiration for making much of the written word in your home.


Like I said, there are so many books on the market to help you as a homeschool teacher, but so far, these three are my favorite, and I cannot recommend them highly enough. If you have any further questions, feel free to ask in the comments section!

p.s. Special thanks to Sonlight and My Father’s World curriculum for introducing me to these books in the first place. Links to both (as well as to Karen Andreola’s blog, Moments with Mother Culture) are available on my blogroll.

A Homeschool Room (with a View!)

Now that school is out for most of us, I thought I’d finally share pictures of the room we used this year for our educational pursuits, for there is no time like the summer to prepare your home for the upcoming school year!

When I first began making my list of wishes for this room at the beginning of last summer, I had no idea how we were going to make it happen. We were paying for two surgeries and the lingering hopsital bills from the birth of our 3rd child…there was NO extra money in the budget, not even enough for a wall map. But I made my list anyhow, and then I got busy…

By the grace of God, by summer’s end, I had sold enough homemade granola and cookies at our local Farmer’s Market to pay for everything on my list.

Every. single. thing.

I seriously couldn’t believe it!

Thus, this room not only served as an inspiring place for our family to learn together, it became a visual reminder for me of how kind our God is. I could have done without this room, for sure, and would have had a million reasons to praise Him without any of it, but it thrilled me to see it come together so beautifully, in good time, and without going into debt.

This space will not work for us forever – in fact, we are beginning the plans of saving up for and building a one-room schoolhouse in our backyard to meet the needs of our ever-growing family – but for our first year of Kindergarten, with our firstborn son, it was perfect.

Take a look…


The little chalkboard is made by French toy company, Moulin Roty. I purchased it for 50% off at Olive Juice Kids one Christmas, and we have enjoyed it so much. The schooldesk and chair are antiques, and the rug was purchased from Anthropologie.


Around the corner, we set up a little school area for our 3-year old daughter. She enjoyed playing and coloring here, and it made her feel like a big girl to have a desk like her brother.


I love this picture. Such enthusiasm. 🙂 But I didn’t make him sit there all the time! We’ve had school all over our house, but this little desk is always here should he decide to work at it.


In fact, I’ve since moved it in front of the window so he can look outside while he does his worksheets…


I snapped this picture one Fall day when my son was busy working…


The bookshelf that holds most of our children’s books came from Restoration Hardware Baby and Child, and was purchased with a bit of inheritance money from my Granny. I love the rail that the kids can step up on, and even though this shelf is pretty pricey (and I bought mine during a special sale event!), I hope to purchase another one when we build our schoolroom. I just love it, price and all.


We covered the wall with “maps” and vintage-inspired posters that are actually giftwrap from Cavallini and Co. At $3.95 apiece, you can’t beat them! I LOVE this line of paper products. Find your own here!


And probably the most important and special part of our schoolroom was the chalkboard my husband built for us. This board was actually salvaged from my old high school and was used by one of my favorite English teachers, the first person who told me I had a good “voice” for writing. It was HUGE, so my husband cut it in half and framed it with wood trim that he stained a dark brown.


My favorite part is the little shelf he made at the bottom to hold our chalk and erasers. Clever, clever. And so pretty…


Here’s another picture of one of our Cavallini posters…


along with others that we have bought as souvenirs on special trips. The one from Prince Edward Island was purchased on our honeymoon almost 8 years ago!


I made these little flashcards on our computer, quoting our school song, “Would You Like to Swing on a Star?”…


and these vintage flashcards were also purchased at an antique store.


Behind one of our doors, we hung wire baskets from Ballard Designs to hold special books or papers for each of our children…


And finally, here is a snapshot of the schoolroom on a normal day when it was being enjoyed by the children and their cousins. They have played and worked in this room all year long, and we’ve already made some wonderful memories here as a family.


If you have any questions about anything you saw in the pictures, please feel free to ask! All available products can be found through the links I provided. Happy summer, everyone!

Schoolmarmee’s Mid-Year Update: Homeschool Happens

So here we are, more than midway through our Adventures in Kindergarten, and I really thought it was time for an update. This “Home Academy” blog has been poorly neglected, but the reasons for that fit quite nicely into what I want to say today, anyway. Don’t you love it when everything matches and has a theme? I sure do.

Because, what I have learned foremost in my first year as a homeschool-teacher is this: homeschool happens.

Meaning, more often than not, there is not anything really noteworthy (or for that matter, blogworthy) about our days here, other than the typical beauty that is found in a life lived in simplicity at home.

I am not so creative that I have neat little craft ideas or recipes to share, and I am not such a pioneer in the field of home education that I have worldview-shifting philosophies to inspire and motivate you. Thankfully, there is a wealth of ideologies out there already that speak far more eloquently than I ever could (I’m looking at you, Charlotte Mason, xoxo), and my sisters on Pinterest have got the awesome snacks and tricked-out craft department more than covered.

But what I do have to offer is some gentle encouragement by way of transparency and honesty…

As much as I absolutely adored our first days of school, with the strict schedule and the novelty and the whimsy (and believe me, I wouldn’t change a thing about it!), as time has wore on, and as I have traveled through the very dark and difficult days of 1st trimester pregnancy misery, school hasn’t so much taken a back burner as it has simply found a way to fit into our life, whatever our life looks like on any given day.

And I think that’s what homeschool is all about.

One of the most notable benefits I have observed during our first year of schooling is that my kids are learning the great art of flexibility and self-education, as well as self-entertainment. As much as I would love to coddle them and max our days out with back-to-back colorful and educational activities, life just isn’t like that. At least mine isn’t.

It’s messy.

It can be hectic.

And it hardly ever goes as planned.

And so one of my very favorite things about the first half of our first year has been watching my Kindergartener, as he has learned his letter sounds and early reading skills and how to tell time, learn to live.

Here are a few examples of Gideon’s greatest accomplishments in Kindergarten thus far (in Schoolmarmee’s sort-of-humble opinion):

  • Learning to appreciate the library.
  • Learning to concentrate on school with one sister crying at our feet and one watching “Little Bear” in the living room.
  • Learning to accompany me and his Papa on church calls and to sit quietly and respectfully while we visit. I’ll share more on this in the future.
  • Learning to become best friends with his siblings and to help take care of them.
  • Learning to hold the door open for me and his sisters.
  • Helping me bake, helping Papa build things, and helping with cleaning and yard work.
  • Learning to listen sort-of intently to chapter books with no pictures. He even chose this over a television show today! Major score.
  • Learning to paint and draw from his imagination rather than always using pre-made coloring sheets.
  • Identifying and naming classical music selections and their composers and giving vivid descriptions of what the music makes him think of.
  • Growing in his love for his entire family and desiring more and more to do kind things for them.
  • Learning to come to us and confess when he has done wrong, before praying and asking God to keep “fixing his heart”. This is my favorite development of the year.
  • Learning to have good manners, at the table, at church, in the car, on errands, and at home.
  • Learning his first song on the piano.
  • Learning to read simple words and books.
  • Developing the foundational stages of his theology.
  • Memorizing dozens of nursery rhymes and songs, including some hymns that he really loves.
  • Learning to dress himself, if not appropriately, at least in an always interesting manner (and I have learned to just go with it).
  • Learning to dislike bullying and cruelty, to people and animals.
  • Learning to become friends with nature and find fulfillment just by being outside.
  • Working simple math problems, at his own pace and for his own enjoyment.

Notice I said “learn-ING” a lot; he is not yet master of any of those subjects, but I share all of these things for one simple reason: in all honesty, I wasn’t very terribly intentional in all of the above. And that’s what I mean when I say “homeschool happens”, because, as we live and move as a family unit, sitting down to read here, listening to music together there, and fleshing out the triumphs and trials of the Christian life in front of each other, we naturally grow. We learn. We develop. We flourish in the things we are good at and we learn to persevere in the things we are not so good at.

Yes, I have to “do school”. Unfortunately, I can’t just throw out a bunch of worksheets and say “figure it out.” And the only reason Gideon can name songs and composers is because I taught him. But my point is, the greatest school moments we have had this year took place when we were doing life, and when we, as a family, were enjoying the things we love.

Homeschool happens, you guys! Especially in the sweet, simple and flexible year of Kindergarten.

And all that was my very roundabout way of saying this: if you’re feeling down that your homeschool isn’t very organized and looks nothing like the schools in the land of blogs and Pinterest, take a moment to catalogue what your children have learned, and take inventory, not just on the hours of your schooldays and the number of projects on your wall, but on all of your moments and days together as a family, and on how your little man or your little lady has changed over the past year. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be surprised to find that you’re doing more than fine, and learning far more than you even realized.

Every single one of you.

"Homeschool Happens" - encouragement for fellow less-than-organized homeschoolers.

Teaching with a Kate

After publishing the post “Teaching with a Betsie” (concerning the difficulties of homeschooling with a little stinker underfoot), my sister-in-law, Amy, reminded me of these pictures she took of HER stinker, Kate, when she was 1 1/2 years old…

In the first photo, she is standing on the dining room table, helping herself to chocolate donuts. In the second, she is standing on her sister’s school-desk helping herself to No. 2 pencils.

Same ornery expression as Betsie.

Same climbing skills.

Same pajamas. (We are firm believers in the art of the hand-me-down).

Unbelievable (and so stinkin’ cute!).

And I thought it would bring those of you who are in the same boat as me – attempting to teach older children while your youngest eats crayons and climbs onto tables – great encouragement to see little Kate now, 3 years old and well on her way to being an upstanding student in Amy’s homeschool.

These days are fleeting, are they not? Before we know it, the little one that runs us ragged will be sitting on a stool reading a book and coloring.

And so I think the best thing we can do is pray for grace, patience, and mostly, for eyes to see the humor and the beauty in life as it is today (and keep those cameras ready!). Because any way you slice it, a baby stuck in a basket of Little Golden Books is just funny…

even if she does interrupt your Home Academy and all thoughts of order and cleanliness for the unforeseeable future.