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.

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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.

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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!

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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. 

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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.

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.

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

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First we came upon a busy anthill…

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then we found a most interesting Passionflower…

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.