22 August 2014

Egyptian Profiles

Our THAGS (Three Honored and Great Subjects- Word, Form, and Song) this week are all centered in Ancient Egypt. The Word requirement of our THAGS has been met by reading selections from Roger Lancelyn Green's Tales of Ancient Egypt aloud to the kids. Song has been filled with Google images of ancient Egyptian musical instruments (it gets better from here, I promise), and for our Form studies, we read about ancient Egyptian art and made Egyptian profile portraits.  

We had a lot of fun with these projects. To create each child's profile, I just took a photo of each kid in front of a white wall, then erased the background, upped the contrast and changed the resulting silhouette to a pale orangey color (which didn't photograph great with my phone). After gluing the silhouette to black paper, the kiddos made elaborate headdresses based on our study of Egyptian art. They used oil pastels which stands out fairly well on the black paper, though, again, it's hard to tell with these pics.  

As you can tell, the older the child, the more historically accurate the headdress. Our 3-year old ended up drawing broccoli and monster trucks on his. ;) Even though the older children probably got more out of this project, the little ones enjoyed it a lot. In fact, I was kind of jealous that I didn't think of making myself one.  I think it's pretty whole-family friendly. It could also be made more complex for older children. I've seen other versions of Egyptian faces projects that use gold tempera or acrylic paint and more sharpies, collage materials, etc. When we do this again, we'll take more time to design and execute our artwork. But, for our first THAGS art appreciation/ form project, I call it a success!   

17 August 2014

Welcome to the Schola: A tour of our Homeschool schoolroom!

We are formally starting school tomorrow morning, so I thought I'd share some pictures of our homeschool space before it get's completely wrecked with real life goings-on.

When we decided to homeschool again after being at our great little Classical school for two years, I realized that I was going to have to use our space differently.  Before, when we homeschooled, we had our books and materials integrated with our library downstairs in our house.  We schooled at the dining room table and had a map on one wall and a chalkboard painted onto the wall on another.

I hated it.

I am not, unfortunately, an organized person, so having the constant clutter of school in our main living area was energy-sapping, to say the least. What I've realized is that I NEED visual peace, and the means to achieve visual peace fairly quickly, in order to maintain some level of personal sanity. Having our homeschool stuff all over the place doesn't do it for me.

Enter our upstairs spare room.
This room, for many reasons (three doorways, two large windows, very small walls) doesn't work as a bedroom.  We decided to shop IKEA for Billy bookcases and the Norden gateleg table.  We also got white stackable stools from IKEA. The chairs are actually Henriksdal, also from IKEA, though I found them at Goodwill through a blessed set of circumstances (they were only $30 for both!).
As one walks into the room, this is the wall to the right.  The bulletin boards are for the two youngest kids to highlight their work, at their level.  Above the bulletin boards is our THAGS board.  This is our way of incorporating the Three Honored and Great Subjects (Word, Form, and Song) weekly. (The THAGS reference is from The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson and you really should check it out.) Above the THAGS board is our Zach Franzen portrait of Reepicheep.
This is the corner opposite the THAGS corner.  Here are our featured books (right now they are all Shakespeare).  Above that is a round mirror I got at a thrift store.  I watercolored a portrait of a little fox and tucked it inside it.  I think it reminds us not to take things too, too seriously.  We have a Zach Franzen Abe Lincoln pic above that.  The picture ledges are IKEA.
This is our gallery wall, minus our Schola McStewium sign, which is still in process.  The frames are all from IKEA.  I attached a little command hook and binder clips to four of them - one for each child to highlight the work of his/ her choice.  On the floor is our little mouse house.

Our little mouse family lives there.

Their bunny friend visits frequently. 
And on our final wall is our Art Wire and world map.  This door leads to our steep back staircase and the old servant's quarters (which is actually just a little room our kids call "the put-away room" because we store toys in there.) It's latched most of the time. The bug specimen print was inspired by an embroidered specimen wall hanging at Land of Nod.  That was waaaaay too expensive for us, so I watercolored one instead.  The Art Wire will, eventually, feature our weekly art projects, I hope.
And, I expect that this is how it will usually look, with more stuff on the floor, of course. Partial nudity optional, but almost certainly guaranteed. :)

08 May 2014

Kinda the point

I got this note from my daughter this weekend. My first instinct when I saw it was to feel rather terrible that she had occasion to write me a note like this. I don't want to be Hurting Mom. I feel sad that I am. I wanted to throw it away and get rid of any written evidence of parental failure. 

But then the Spirit impressed upon me what a gift I hold here. This represents what I've always hoped our family would be- a safe place to fail. A place to find hope and healing. 

I always thought that process would look prettier than it does. I hoped it would involve gathering the children to my knee, gently smiling wisdom into their expectantly upturned faces. In reality, I'm a mess. The gathering-to-the-knee happens, but not very often. And I'm not sure the kids will remember that scenario at all. 

However, the sort of thing represented by this note- I think they'll remember. There's hurt. But then, by His love, God works in my brokenness (and theirs) to bring us to the process of repentance and forgiveness. He grow us in Grace. Amazing. It's pure Gift. 

I think I'm going to save this note forever as a witness to what we're doing here. We hurt. We forgive. We repent. We love. 

And sometimes we write it down.

25 March 2014

The absolute best Scripture songs in the world!

No. I'm not exaggerating.

Let me tell you why I love it.

For the past couple of months, we have been listening to the amazing Slugs & Bugs Sing the Bible cd at home and in the car. The music is simply wonderful-great musicians, clever instrumentation, singable melodies...Randall Goodgame has a lovely voice and plays a winsome character on his kids' cds.  My children love, love, love it.

My favorite thing about this cd is that it has prompted incredible discussions about who the disciples thought Jesus was (from "You are the Christ"), how we serve other people (from "Two Shirts" "Love" and "Love One Another"), and how God knows us (from "What is the Book" and "Romans 8"). We've talked about how we think about Jesus and what he did and does and can do for us.  We've discussed idolatry, freedom from sin, responsibility for the poor, identity in Christ, etc.

And the music is appealing for all ages.  I don't turn it off in the car when I'm the only one in there. Even the three and five year old have memorized the books of the Bible and big passages of scripture and all of the kids know more about Levitical food laws than I ever imagined (you'll understand that if you have the cd).

I simply cannot recommend it highly enough.

Get it here from The Rabbit Room and definitely consider buy extra for friends and family.  Once you hear it, you will want to pass it on.  It really is amazing.

07 March 2014

The importance of worship through play

I love watching my children play. They have such incredible imaginations.  I love to see how they create entire worlds out of the position of an object or entire plotlines from the posture of a toy. I love to hear them create dialogue and action.  I love their narrations and the intricate backstories they create for their characters.

I think most parents find delight in observing their children's play.  But I've been surprised to discover that many parents do not consider introducing Biblical subjects to their children as a possible basis for play. I've observed that children have a unique ability to enter the Biblical stories at a level of understanding that eludes many adults. Because God has given them extraordinary imaginative powers, they are able to inhabit characters with their whole selves.  This means that they are also positioned to learn from these characters in an extraordinarily real way. I'd suggest that more than being a good idea, Play is essential to a child's understanding of and love for the Bible.

And in our family, the only way Biblical play happens is for my husband and I to commit to creating time and providing the tools for it to happen.

The time
We have found that Biblical play happens best when we make it a part of our daily lives. This is one reason we love celebrating the church year together through family worship. Our family has found worship to be an important part of creating a home environment of praise and growth in the Lord.  We observe the church seasons because ordering our lives according to the story of Jesus birth, baptism, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension, as well as the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the church reminds us that God is present and active in our world. We are Protestants, and fairly low-church Protestants now, at that. But liturgical traditions have shaped and formed us and blessed us, too, so many of our activities reflect that background. 

If an example of how this works would be helpful, you can read more about how we celebrated a specific day in the church year, Ash Wednesday, here.

The tools
The Montessori educational theories on deliberate play and the internalization of play by children have informed my own thoughts on this.  The book, Godly Play by Jerome Berryman (see his YouTube resources here) may be a good introduction, though I definitely do not endorse all of Berryman's theological positions.

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones is essential to our family's worship experiences, though we also enjoy Egermeier's Bible Storybook which has short, well-written versions of the stories-of-the-faith. 
Peg people created with woodburning tools and watercolors

Our first method of playing-the-stories is to act it out ourselves.  Blankets, sheets, cords for belts, and various props have created some wonderful scenes here.  My children still remember the year we acted out Mary and Joseph's visit to the temple and their encounter with Anna and Simeon when the children were ages 5, 3, and 1. They rode on a Daddy-donkey and the youngest child was Mary and Joseph's faithful dog. It made a big impression!

As the kids have gotten older, we use peg people. Most recently I created some with woodburning tools and watercolors. Wood pegs are generally available at craft stores or can be bought in bulk at Similar sets are available on etsy. (Or we make a limited number of sets- contact me to see if any are available for purchase.) 

The most important thing to provide, in my estimation, is encouragement and the space to play without judgment. We have our worship-play items
Zaccheus climbs a tree to see Jesus
set out on a small table under the stairs in the foyer of our house.  It is a relatively private space, so they get moved when more than one sibling enters the fray. I invite the kids to act out a story as part of re-centering when the environment gets tense or as part of their devotional exercises at the beginning of the day or anytime they are looking for something to do. And then I step back and let them discover whatever it is that God has for them in those moments.

For our family, worship through play has been a wonderful experience of meeting God in a new and different way. But I'd love to hear from you.

Have you incorporated play into your family worship? If so, what are your favorite resources? What has God shown you and your family through play? If not, what is holding you back?

05 March 2014

Ash Wednesday

We managed to observe Ash Wednesday here even though we had sickness in the family and the parents were exhausted from sleep deprivation.
First we read the story of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness in The Jesus Storybook Bible and Egermeier's Bible Story Book while the children acted it out with our peg people.
Then we read Psalm 51 and took turns imposing the ashes on each other.
And we sang, "I have decided to follow Jesus." 
 It was a simple, meaningful celebration- a perfect start to Lent, despite the odds.

Does your family celebrate Ash Wednesday in any special way?

03 March 2014

Celebrating Lent as a family: visual reminders

Worship Space
For us, celebrating Lent is as much about creating visual signals to pause and worship as anything else.You may wish to create your own space for contemplation or observation.  A purple cloth on a table, a chair with a Bible and a journal… these things communicate that there is something different about this time, something special.  You may want to decorate differently than you do the rest of the year.  Adding pictures or books in a special basket for little ones to enjoy incorporates them into the space.  This space doesn’t have to be complicated.  Rocks, wood, a nail, a small cross…things that children can touch and hold makes a difference in their understanding of the Jesus story!
Lenten wreath or spiral
Just as an Advent wreath helps to count the days or weeks to Christmas in a very visible, tactile, sense-engaging way, so do candles in some form help to create anticipation during Lent.  A weekly countdown should include 6 candles.  A daily countdown would need 40 (if Sundays are not included).  A Lenten cross can be made from wood, or can simply be a poster board cross, onto which candles in votive holders are set. Simple wreaths are also available at many Christian bookstores or online (try Catholic bookstores).  An Advent to Lent spiral is an especially beautiful way to remember the days.

Repentance box

A repentance box is a very visible reminder of God’s pardon for us.  Mistakes, errors and sins are written on slips of paper and put in the box.  On Good Friday, the pieces of paper can be nailed to the cross.  Or, another option is to write the word “FORGIVEN” on each slip of paper and throw them away or burn the pieces.  Or, a parent may wish to empty the box so it can be presented on Easter morning.
"Dust" bowl

A bowl with flour in it is a tactile way to remember that “we are dust, and to dust we shall return." Playing in the dust is a great way to redirect an older child (or adult) by asking them to draw something representing their sins in the dust and then erase it. We have used the flour bowl in our "quiet chair" area and in the past have made it available to the younger kids only with supervision. If the thought of setting a bowl of flour out for the kids to turn into a massive mess gives you the heebie-jeebies, forget this idea. But if you are a little enthralled, another great take on this can be found at this link.
Forced blooms
A beautiful way to recognize new life is to cut some branches from a flowering bush such as forsythia or a cherry tree, place in water and allow the branches to open in time.  These, inevitably, will open before Easter.  If you want to control the bloom, you may wish to use barren branches and then replace them with flowering branches at Easter.
Jesus Tree
Similar to a Jesse Tree at Advent, a Jesus tree is a lovely way to contemplate Jesus’ way to the cross by using scripture and art to tell the story.  You can make your own versions, but an excellent free (and gorgeous) version is available at Holy Experience from Ann Voskamp

Do you have any ideas for visual reminders that can help a family worship during Lent?

01 March 2014

Celebrating Lent as a family: devotional readings, music and crafts

There are many wonderful devotional books and readings available to deepen one's Lenten experience. Some are listed below. Personally, I love to choose a book to read a little at a time during the seasons of Lent and Advent.

But one of the most effective strategies to build one's relationship with the Lord during Lent is also one of the simplest.  A Bible reading plan that focuses on the Gospels is a wonderful way to be reminded of who Jesus is and what He did that led to His crucifixion and Resurrection.

A family might choose to do a plan together and read through one of the Gospels in the weeks before Easter. Or or use a children’s devotional to make projects that remind you of the path Jesus took to the cross.
There are also many wonderful choices available when it comes to worshipful music.  Lent is an excellent time to introduce kids to music they might not have experienced before like chant, oratory, or classical pieces.

The titles listed below are a very, very small sampling of the many resources available. These all have child-relatable elements and I find myself using them again and again for our family.  Use your discernment as to whether these fit your family's theological convictions.

Bible Reading Plans
YouVersion has three new plans (including one by NT Wright!)
Here's a 30-day Gospel of John plan

28 February 2014

Celebrating Lent as a family: An introduction

A little about the time before Easter...
Signs of spring are here.  Birds are beginning to build nests.  Flowers are starting to bloom. Soon farmers will be turning the soil and preparing the ground for seed. All around us nature is waking up. Preparation is being made for another growth cycle.

Within this growth cycle of spring, Easter is coming. It finds its way into the spring calendar every year, its date moving like a Mexican jumping bean. Have you ever wondered why? Why don't we have a fixed date for Easter as we do for Christmas?

In the early church, bishops in the East and those in Rome were celebrating the Easter feast on different Sundays. Apparently there was no unanimity on the date of Jesus' resurrection. So when the bishops came together to address some deep theological matters in Nicaea in 325 A.D., they addressed this practical issue of ensuring the same day was chosen to celebrate the Easter feast every year. Since there was no strong consensus on the original date, they felt that Sunday was the most appropriate date to celebrate. Changing to a uniform date did away with any future arguments about the true Easter date.

The new system, determined by the moon's phases, ensured that the Easter feasts would jump around within a small window of dates. Tying the dates to the moon phases ensured that no one could get the dates wrong again. Such dating sounds strange to modern ears, but it made very good sense to people of the fourth century who were tied to the land and the heavens. The council of Nicaea decided that Easter would be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon that occurred after the spring equinox. Because of the way the lunar calendar cycles, Easter must occur between March 22 and April 25.

...And a little about Lent
The preparation for Easter became known as Lent, which comes from the Old English word "lencten," meaning "lengthen" as the days do as winter gives way to spring.

According to the liturgical calendar, Lent begins  on Ash Wednesday, seven Wednesdays before Easter. Ash Wednesday is a day when we remember our mortality, our finite nature. Our time on this earth is brief. The Psalmist says, "Men and women don't live very long; like wildflowers they spring up and blossom, But a storm snuffs them out just as quickly, leaving nothing to show they were here" (Psalms 103:15).  Lent continues for 40 days (not counting Sundays) moving through six weeks at the beginning of Spring to Holy Week's Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and concluding the Saturday before Easter. 

The 40 days of Lent were being observed by the early church by the 4th century.   Easter was the primary celebration of the early church and a period of intense fasting before the celebration of Easter was instituted very shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  As time went on, that time of fasting was lengthened.  In the early church, Lent became a time of preparation for those who were to be baptized, a time of concentrated study and prayer before their baptism at the Easter Vigil. Those who had become believers during the year were baptized early Easter Sunday morning. As these new members were received into a living community of faith, the entire community was called to preparation. This also became a time when those who had been separated from the Church would prepare to rejoin the community.

The number 40 is connected with many biblical events, but especially with the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing for his ministry, overcoming temptations that could have led him to abandon his mission and calling. Christians today use this period for introspection, self-examination and repentance.

Why celebrate Lent as a Family?
At this time of year, preparations are being made all around us for another growth cycle.  The Earth is warming and greening.  New life is beginning to bud and bloom.   Why should it be any different within our spiritual lives? Spiritual growth is more intentional than not. Jesus modeled that spiritual growth involves spiritual disciplines.

Easter is on the calendar and Easter Day will come and go whether we do any planning. However, Easter will not produce much spiritual growth in us without preparation. We may find ourselves stooping down to peer inside the empty tomb on Easter morning without a great deal of excitement or awe, since we've heard the story so many times before, unless we prepare ourselves for that morning and for the words of the angel: "He is not here for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay" (Matthew 28:6).

If a farmer misses the window to plant a crop, he will not have time to reap a harvest. If we waste precious days or precious years, we can't get them back. Lent reminds us to seize the moment. Make the season of Lent an intentional season of growth. Make Lent a spiritual journey toward the cross, and then you'll bend down and be in awe of the empty tomb. Easter will be a day of celebration and not just another day!

Adapted for my purposes (with my biases and research but with borrowed verbiage) from “Explaining Lent to Non-Liturgical Christians” by Michael Helms (please click through to read his much-more-eloquent explanation).

I'd love to hear others who did or did not grow up celebrating Lent and how the season works (or doesn't) in your home! 

16 February 2014

Why a Classical Education is important to us

I will confess, when we first started our homeschooling journey, I was not sold on the idea of Classical Education. I'm a self-confessed snob/ nerd/ dork, but Classical Education seemed way too pretentious to me. In fact, it just seemed to be too much. Too much repetition, too much memorizing, too much study of things like Latin (that, at first glance, could be perceived as a massive waste of time), not to mention too much time, too much effort, and too much organization for me, a very unorganized person.

Kids "playing chess" in the winter sun
As I said in a previous post, I was not a good homeschooler the first time we did it. I was overwhelmed by the choices of curricula; I could see something redeeming in every program and method! I tried to incorporate everything and ended up so overwhelmed that we did nothing. I managed to teach my daughter to read and write and how to do a little bit of math by the time she was a first grader. But that was it.

When we decided to attend what shall henceforth be known as The Classical-school-that-saved-us, I began reading more about Classical education. Through the course of researching I found The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Dorothy Sayers' excellent and provocative essay,  The Lost Tools of LearningAfter reading these and other persuasive arguments for Classical Education, I was convinced.

At The-Classical-school-that-saved-us (Ok, that's too long to type. It shall henceforth be known as Aletheia), I was able to observe Classical education in process. The curriculum was not super-exciting, but was manageable and masterable and fit very well with the goals of Classical education.  I saw how the tools of memorization and rote could work (and even be creatively used!) in the Grammar stage.  I discovered how the study of Latin forms a basis for understanding language that is simply irreplaceable.

Most thrilling was that I witnessed how my children and other children were empowered by their mastery and understanding of the skills and ideas presented to them in this model of education. Classical education focuses on providing a foundation that is strong and reliable in the beginning stages of education.  Repetition provides permanence and rote provides mastery. I've seen students with learning difficulties, whether innate or self-imposed, experience the joy that comes from conquering a formerly unreachable height through constant repetition and remembering.  My own children have found security in the firmness of their knowledge.

For the teacher, where I once thought that Classical education was binding and boring, I now see the freedom offered in teaching fundamentals in an ordered, understandable, age-appropriate way. The teacher does not need to ask children to experience that which their brains are not cognitively ready to experience. Because the education is age-appropriate, it can also be rigorous. It can have an emphasis on sturdy fundamentals, but can leave room for imagination and a child's innate need for "knowing" and discovery.

Because of these reasons, we have decided to have a Classical homeschool. We have found that in addition to the above positives, a Classical education is also very adaptable. Memory work can be done in the car or at the dinner table; chanting can be done just as easily to the rhythm of a jump rope. I also love that it is often inter-disciplinary and that a subject can speak to another subject with ease.

Essentially, for our family, a Classical education provides the framework necessary for the exploration of knowledge as we have determined we want our children to be able to explore knowledge. I put that part in italics because I am sure it's not for everyone.  And if you feel that God has asked you to do homeschooling a different way, be encouraged to do it that way.

But for those who find Classical education to be enticing, it's ok to find the idea of beginning to educate one's child in this manner a tad intimidating. I have been there.  The allure is easy to recognize; how to move into a Classical education can be daunting.

So- are you interested in a Classical education for your kids? Look for more posts in the future as I break down what we do to make the dream of a Classical education a reality here at Schola McStewium. Maybe it will inspire you to make your Classical dream a reality, too.

15 February 2014

Home. School. Classical(ish).(the intro post)

My husband and I knew that God was asking us to homeschool our children back when our first child was just a little one.  My husband and I are both the kind of people who love, love, love learning.  And though I loved the social aspects of school and both of us were good students, we found Excitement generated by the actual learning within the public school context to be the exception rather than the norm. We wanted our kids to love absorbing and mastering information, but we also wanted them to learn character lessons and how to serve others.  And, when it came down to it, we wanted to be the ones teaching them these things. So we decided to homeschool.

But, honestly, I was not a great homeschooler.  (I'll detail some of the reasons why in a later post.) So, when my eldest was getting ready for second grade and we found an affordable and excellent classical school in a city near us, we jumped at the chance to enroll.  
First day of school 2013
Aletheia School was the biggest possible blessing for me and my children.  Because the teachers are primarily volunteer parents, I had the opportunity to teach my children, and other children. Because of patient colleagues who explained processes and programs to me, I understood more about how a child learns and the discipline required to teach.

And while my children were learning from amazing Christian role-models, I learned some important things about myself. I discovered, personally, that I love teaching.  And I found that structure and routine is life-giving to my scattered and creative brain. I also realized that my internal script that says that I'm lazy is not necessarily true and that I really can wake up early, teach a lot, and engage my children.  On the negative side, I found out that while I'm a good teacher, my natural bent is to be a terrible disciplinarian, that I have a major weakness in communicating expectations to my students, and that follow-through will always be a challenge to my big dreams.  I'm glad to know all of that as we move forward.

After the death of our fifth child in utero in December, our family has needed the peace offered by Home in a way we haven't really experienced before.  We have found that the stress of being gone all day is taking a toll on the relationships in the family at a time when the relationships in the family need to offer refuge.  I was reluctant to give up our involvement at school, but knew that God wanted me to put that on the altar. As soon as we did, it was clear that homeschooling was the way forward.

Because our school has been so helpful for all of us, we plan to try to keep up with the curriculum and pace of the school.  This is definitely not how many homeschoolers do school, but the accountability offered by an outside schedule is very helpful for us.  Similarly, a curriculum that provides an already-chosen core offers this mother-who-loves-aspects-of-all-curriculum a solid starting point. 

What this means is that we will have three kids on completely different paths and a squirly preschooler.  I'm ok with that, for now. We'll see how it morphs later in the year.

The 'ish' part of the our tagline comes from the fact that I am not do-or-die about any part of homeschooling.  If something really isn't working for us, we'll re-evaluate and try something else. Our youngest will be at a very non-Classical preschool two or three mornings a week.  The kindergartner will be formally learning reading,  math and handwriting. Whatever she picks up from the others' Bible, Science and so on is fine with me. The eldest (fourth grade) will be almost entirely self-taught with the help of curriculum on video. Again, I'm ok with that. We'll also be incorporating various liturgical celebrations and traditions, circle time, read alouds, memory songs, and tons of art. I'm not sure how much of it would fit into an "ideal" Classical model. Honestly, I don't care.

Schola McStewium
The name of the blog is a little joke that has become a reminder to me to not take things too seriously. "Schola" comes from the name of the classical schools, of course, and "McStewium" is our abbreviated last name, made far more dignified by adding a Latin ending.  I tend to be a perfectionist.  The name of our homeschool is intended to keep us all focused on the big picture, not the fussy details.

I'm excited that we are at this signpost at this stage of our journey.  Our path has been pretty extraordinary so far and I'm confident that it will be a thrilling ride in the future, too.

I'd be grateful if you'd travel along with us for a while. We'd love the company.