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.

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

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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!

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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.

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

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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:

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To our youngest daughter from her pal, Mother Goose:

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

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

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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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HOMESCHOOL RULES!!!!!!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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…

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

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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??

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Sigh…

‘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!

 

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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!

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.

Teaching with a Betsie

I was initially determined to conduct our Kindergarten classes at 9:00 sharp, in the hopes that both Gideon and I would develop a healthy respect for order and punctuality.

We did very well those first 2 days (and I’ll share more on that in the days to come)…

But we had a little problem.

Betsie.

16 months old and the orneriest kid I have ever given birth to. Just when she stopped trying to eat every single inedible object in sight (for MONTHS!)…she learned to climb. And her favorite new perch is right smack in the middle of our homeschool table…

Or on her brother’s school desk…

where she gets stuck.

Or on…anything, really.

She’s winsome, alright, and just about the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. But she has reeked havoc on our little Home Academy…

and has single-handedly shut down all educational operations until her naptime after lunch.

Sometimes I try to imagine a bonafide schoolteacher in her classroom-full of students teaching with a Betsie underfoot.

I don’t think she could do it.

But then again, neither could I!