Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dancing Under the Stars, and a Lesson on Friendship

Want to know the best way to celebrate the end of summer?

Gather together with wonderful friends...
Share something sweet...
Dance like no one's watching...
Cheer each other on...
and don't be afraid to let loose once in a while...

Help one another ...
and comfort one another...
Always stick together
and be grateful that your sweet friends...
have little girls who are becoming your daughter's sweet friends.
At the end of the summer every year we head to Hartwood Acres to watch a free performance of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater outside under the stars. Our little ballerinas are permitted to dance right in front of the real ones, and it is always such a fantastic night. We're already looking forward to next year!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Dear Chloe,

The word commencement means "to begin; to initiate; to have or make a beginning." I didn't know that until the day I graduated from high school. I always thought it meant to end. I taught you this afternoon that indeed it means the beginning, and that it describes you and I, Chloe B. We are at the very beginning of what I pray will be a wonderful journey together.

When I heard you cry for the first time six years ago and Daddy looked at me wide eyed and whispered "We've got a girl!," I was so surprised I didn't believe it until I held you myself. I was so certain you were going to be a boy that I hung blue wooden letters spelling "SAM" over your changing table the week before you were born. Nana gleefully exchanged those for a pink C, H, L, O, and E after we brought you home... she had been secretly hoping for a girl all along, and so had I.

The surprises God has delighted me with since you were born just keep coming. I was surprised when your perfect blond ringlets came in. Ringlets! Where did those come from?! I was surprised with how quiet and smart you were, with how well you talked at such a young age. Daddy nicknamed you "the little linguist" because even as a baby, you talked like an adult. I was surprised with how much you've come out of your shell this past year. Not long ago you were very timid in front of all but our closest family and friends, and you have blossomed on your own into such a delightful little girl. Now even strangers get to see the real Chloe, as you dance and twirl and laugh and sing through your days. I'm surprised with how quickly the last six years have passed, with how tall you've grown, with how sweetly you see the world. I'm surprised that today I find myself the teacher... I learn so much from you.

This afternoon, after a wonderful commencement celebration with five other homeschooling families, we sat together and read about a little boy who learns to read as he wanders around a museum full of beautiful paintings. We sang songs and did math and practiced handwriting and had some leftover coffee cake from the morning's party. When you needed a little break, we took one. There was no bell that had to ring first. No hard and fast rules that said you had to do one thing before you could do another. You really wanted to paint, so we pulled your easel over to the window with the sunlight streaming in and I watched you paint a ladybug and thanked God that He, in His endless grace, surprised me yet again by giving me that moment.

Congratulations on your first day of kindergarten sweet girl. You are a gift, and I am so very blessed to be your mommy.

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows."
James 1:17

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

An Atmosphere, A Discipline, A Life

Here's what we're going to be learning this year:

After much research, angst, and a fair amount of confusion, I read Susan Wise Bauer's The Well Trained Mind and was struck with the idea of a classical education. Based on an education model called the Trivium, the twelve years of schooling before college are divided into three distinct stages, called the Grammar stage, the Logic stage, and the Rhetoric stage. Bauer does a much better job explaining the classical education philosophy than I ever could here. As Greg and I considered the triumphs and tribulations of our own academic experiences coupled with the way we've observed our children learn thus far, the classical model just made sense.

We decided on Veritas Press for no other reason than we liked it the best. Every curriculum we looked at was great, but we just seemed to click with Veritas and decided to stop hemming and hawing and just go with it. If it's awful, we'll pick something else next year :-).

We're going to be using their Phonics Museum program for language arts and I can not wait to crack open those readers with Chloe and snuggle up on the reading couch we've made in our classroom. We're going to be doing Handwriting Without Tears, Math U See, Bible, and Art Appreciation, with a little poetry and a lot of classical music, creative play, and crafting thrown in. The boys and I will be doing Before Five in a Row, and they will also be going to a traditional preschool a few days a week. I'm not sure what an average day will look like yet, but I'm optimistic that it's going to be fun!

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
                                   -Charlotte Mason

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Patterns of this World

It's a rainy Sunday morning and I'm sitting in the midst of what is still a very cluttered classroom. We decided to convert the guest bedroom in our basement into a family workspace/guest room, and as all the projects in our house seem to do, this one has taken on a life of its own. Our first day of school is in exactly eight days, and this place is a mess. Greg and I have been busy hanging alphabet borders, organizing curriculum and workbooks and art supplies into neatly labeled bins, and generally trying to create what we think will be a creative, cozy, inspiring place to learn together. Greg and the kids headed upstairs for some lunch and I glanced around and wondered, Is this what a kindergarten classroom should be? Have I done enough? Have I done too much? The truth is, I really wouldn't know. The last time I was in a kindergarten classroom was 1980, when I tearfully kissed my mom goodbye and walked into Miss Sumner's class at Immaculate Heart of Mary in a green plaid uniform that was two sizes too big. I still remember how scratchy the wool was, and that I was the shortest kid in the room by quite a large margin.

I think that I've become a bit obsessed with creating the perfect little classroom because somehow I've convinced myself that if I can do that, I'll prove to the naysayers that I am indeed worthy of  educating my own kids. I may not have a degree in early childhood education, but check out this classroom! Did you see how cute that bulletin board is? Am I made for this or what?!

All my life I've been a follower. It's painfully embarrassing to admit, but it's the truth. I've always been a lover of what is fashionable, what is popular, of going along with the crowd. Homeschooling, therefore, is an unusual choice, because even as it gains popularity year by year, it remains a very countercultural way to educate your kids. It is not something I ever thought I would do. I thought I would be putting my kids on that bus and heading off to Starbucks, or the gym, or to reclaim my pre-mommy identity at work along with all the other mothers suddenly free after the long, sometimes dry season of being a constant caretaker.

God had other plans for me. After years of ignoring the Holy Spirit's gentle nudging to begin seeking God's will for my childrens' education rather than just taking the obvious next step, God got through to me loud and clear one day as I was driving on the highway. I can't even remember where I was going or what exactly triggered the revelation, but the understanding that I needed to pray about homeschooling and be willing to trust and follow God's plan settled over me with a real sense of peace. I kept my mouth shut and prayed for nearly a year before even mentioning it to Greg. By then, God had worked in amazing ways in my heart, and I knew this was what He wanted me to do.

In the first chapter of James, it says that 5If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind (NIV).

I asked. He answered.

The classroom may not be perfect. I may not have done enough. I may have done too much. I may lose friends who've decided I'm just too weird to hang out with anymore. I may disappoint family members who love us but just can't understand why we're choosing to do something they're embarrassed to have to tell their friends. But our family will joyfully be reading and playing and singing and learning every day all year in this room, and I will not be a wave tossed by the wind.

Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.                        Romans 12:2         (The Message)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Welcome to the Smith Family Blog!

I've wanted to start a blog for a long, long time, but it always seemed so much easier to just read everyone else's and muse about what I would write if I had my own. Now that I am less than ten days away from beginning our family's homeschooling adventure, I decided it was now or never! I don't want to miss the chance to chronicle the journey of teaching and raising the three little ones God has blessed us with. Over the course of this year I hope to capture many of the special moments we will share together living and learning as a family.