Seven Quick Takes – In the Deep Midwinter

ONE

Our family does best when we embrace winter as a season. That means fostering coziness indoors – fires most nights, candles with every dinner, blankets on the couch – and winter fun outdoors daily. Even if it takes the kids as long to bundle up as they get to spend playing outside on a truly bitterly cold day everyone is in a better mood after fresh air, sledding, or a snowball fight with neighbors. Right before the worst of the Polar Vortex hit we took all the kids on a snow hike and sledding in a nearby forest preserve. It’s the first year the smaller two were ready for the big hill instead of our near-daily backyard sledding. Everyone had a blast. During the following week it got down to -27 (-33 celsius) with windchills around -50 to -60. We mostly stayed inside for two days because the kids refuse to wear neck gaiters/face masks over their faces and it was too cold for exposed skin. Unfortunately one of our furnaces couldn’t handle the strain and died. We’re making do with space heaters for now and happy it’s not worse. Our poor neighbors had a pipe burst in their basement the day they moved across the country! A couple balmy days and a family-wide case of the flu followed the cold snap.  We’re now back to cold and snow as regularly programmed.

 

TWO

The kids caught the Beatrix Potter bug this winter. We’ve spent lots of time cuddled up on the couch with Peter Rabbit, Hunka-Munka, and Mrs. Tiggywinkle. I never actually enjoyed her stories or art as a child and the kids didn’t show much interest in years past. However, my grandmother sent them a beautiful boxed set of Potter’s books for Christmas and something about those lovely little hardbacks did the trick. Turns out I enjoy them now too. I didn’t realize they were so funny! In January we read a lot of winter and arctic-themed books. As we slog through February and winter starts to drag a bit I’ve transitioned the library book basket over to fairy tales and fables using the Read Aloud Revival monthly booklist as a springboard. It’s a good month for escaping into magic worlds. We always include some black history in our reading but are diving deeper for Black History Month. Valentines Day is not a big day for us but the kids enjoy making cards and decorations so we add in a few Valentines Day books as well.

I’ve been thinking a lot about stories this month. Plenty of studies show that stories are a uniquely powerful vehicle for learning and information, but I also like thinking about how they connect us across time and geography. An Anansi story from a thousand years ago in Africa still makes our family laugh on the couch today. A well-told story can put us in the shoes of Genghis Khan or make us cry over a refugee family. A group of actors in England can tell the story of a brilliant but lonely man in 1960s Oxford that captivates two tired parents four thousand miles away in a snowbound house in the American midwest. Which brings us to:

THREE

Endeavour. We’re not big TV watchers but this winter a great story made the coldest winter days fly by. I’d watched the stand-alone prequel movie and first season of the BBC’s Endeavour a few years ago and enjoyed it. I just realized this winter that there are currently five seasons and have spent most of my spare time (and perhaps some time that wasn’t spare but stolen) immersed in the story. I haven’t enjoyed a show this much for years. Intricate mysteries, lovingly recreated historical settings, beautiful cinematography, and above all, brilliant acting. I was vaguely familiar with the original Morse played by John Thaw and knew of the books but Shaun Evans’ depiction of young Morse is outstanding and the other leading actors are equally good. It’s been years since I’ve seen a TV show tell such a good story so well. I finished the Fifth Season last week and am fighting the urge to go right back to the beginning and start over.

Just a heads up, the individual prequel movie does have some nudity unlike the full seasons that follow. The prequel sets up the character well and addresses real moral issues (trafficking) but be advised in case you’re watching with young kids around the house. It’s not a series I’d watch with young kids regardless.

FOUR

Another thing keeping the winter fidgets at bay? The kids caught the games bug this winter. They’ve begged for games in the past, but I can’t say anyone enjoyed them. They didn’t understand the rules, fought and sobbed over losing, and broke and scattered all the game pieces. This winter we’ve had many successful rounds of Old Maid, Sneaky Snacky Squirrel, Count Your Chickens, Go Fish and others. It’s wonderful to see Annie play games with her siblings. For a child who struggles with social interaction and sensory overwhelm, structured games are an ideal vehicle for play. She’s able to relax and engage because there are clear rules to follow and she’s strong at tasks that require pattern or match spotting.

FIVE

I’m hitting the stage of winter where I get the winter….not blues, so much, as…discontent? Antsiness over career, home, location, travel, religion, politics, and neighborhood gets compounded by short sleep, illness, sick kids, and solo parenting during travel weeks for my husband. I’ve found the best solution is to get up and do something physical. Declutter and scrub, go for a walk, even just run up and down the stairs putting away laundry.

I’m also brushing up on my piano skills. I took lessons for eleven years but haven’t played much outside of Christmas caroling since the twins began to walk. Piano during naps woke the kids, and outside of nap time there were too many little hands grabbing for the keys. This winter they’re all mature enough to let me play and I often sit down to have a little fun with Bach or Mozart during their lunches (our piano sits in the Dining Room). Mom gets a mental break, and the kids get a little “live” music. Win-win. Really anything creative helps. Carving out the time to create something beautiful or meaningful through art, music, writing, handcrafts, or design always make me happier. I also set up extra art opportunities for the kids in winter. During the summer we’re usually outside all day and the art things barely get a glance. In winter I’ll often pull out some sensory play or art supplies for them and they’ll happily spend half an hour or an hour creating at the kitchen table.

SIX

A good book series also helps me battle the winter doldrums. I picked up the first of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce novels in mid-January and am now on the eighth. They are completely delightful mysteries following and middle-school aged chemistry genius in 1950s England. Clever, hysterically funny, quick, and just right for the months of snow and ice. The most recent I read felt a bit weaker, but that won’t stop me from finishing the series. They’re best read in order.

SEVEN

We’re working on decorating plans. I’ve found Myquillyn Smith’s Cozy Minimalist Home very helpful and thought-provoking over the winter. Although we have different tastes my mom has a great eye for decorating and I grew up in a home full of her decorating and design books. However, I’ve always struggled to put a room together. The books I’d looked at were not much help. I could see a room I liked but couldn’t move from there to a coherent room of my own. Many of the books were topical (what to put in a bedroom, ideas for gallery walls) or very specific to one style. Cozy Minimalist Home does a good job working through the building blocks of a room whatever your taste, from figuring out major furniture placement to building blocks of rugs, curtains, lighting, and just enough decorating. To be clear, Smith’s decorating style is emphatically not my own, and her writing style drives me a little crazy. It’s the sort of chatty “hey girlfriend!” style that annoys me to no end, and the book could be condensed easily into one very clear and concise two page article. Faults notwithstanding, it’s started the wheels turning and various rooms around the house are underway for the first time since moving in 2.5 years ago.

 

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Tenth Anniversary Trip

Wedding 3

We celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary this week with a mini-roadtrip to southwestern Wisconsin. We stayed at a bed and breakfast for two nights, hiked at beautiful Devil’s Lake State Park and Parfrey’s Glen, downhill skied at Devil’s Head, read good books, watched Endeavour, and made a brief stop to explore Madison and peek at the Wisconsin state capitol building. Grandma and Grandpa held down the fort at home despite sick kids with high fevers and we returned home to a house full of beautiful flower bouquets from relatives. We also made our selfie quota for the year, as you can see below.

The pictures don’t do Devil’s Lake justice – the cliffs in the first few photos stand 500 feet above that frozen lake. Photos also cannot convey the agonizing freezing wind blasting off the lake but luckily our faces went numb after a couple of minutes. We remembered to wear our neck gaiters and ski goggles for the rest of the day.

Devil’s Head Ski Area. Small, but perfect for a day’s skiing with beautiful long-range views over southwestern Wisconsin. Although the resort infrastructure looks like it hasn’t been updated since the ’70s the lifts and runs are in great shape. I’d planned to bring my own skis and boots from my teens, but when I dug them out of my parents’ barn I found them full of mouse nests. Rentals, then, and new liners someday for the ski boots!

Parfrey’s Glen State Natural Area. We turned back part way when the gorge trail led over thin ice dotted with large gaps where previous hikers had fallen through. There’s being adventurous and then there’s just being stupid…

We spent our honeymoon downhill and cross country skiing, tubing, snowshoeing, and hiking in the Colorado mountains. We laughed during this anniversary trip when, in addition to unintentionally choosing similar activities, we stopped for sub sandwiches on our way home and without thinking ordered the same Italian sandwich we discovered at the Denver airport on our way to our honeymoon location. A day later we, again without meaning to, had the same cake we used for our wedding cake after ordering it for a relative’s birthday. Thankfully we did not repeat the honeymoon interaction with a large mother moose and her calf blocking us from our car in Rocky Mountain National Park. Forget about bears, moose are the real winter threat. They’re grouchy, built like boulders, and don’t hibernate.

Wedding Picture 1

Wedding Picture 2

(I loved the detail on that dress. My veil was made from my mother’s wedding veil, cut down. The poor bridesmaids had to struggle with a not-very-helpful regency dress pattern. Sorry ladies! If I had it to do over again I’d have just sent you all out to pick a sensible dress in a coordinating color.)

Life’s had its ups and downs but we both agree, looking back, that marriage just keeps getting better. We were happy at our wedding, but the years of hard work, love, parenting, and teamwork continue to build into deeper and deeper love, respect, and friendship. Multiple states, multiple jobs, deployment, four kids, many adventures, hundreds of hikes, and I’d marry this man again in a heartbeat.

Pumpkins

A few days after Halloween my parents invited the kids over for pumpkin picking in their garden. We came home with plenty for baking plus enough to share with a neighbor. In addition to a traditional pie I made pumpkin bread. While The Man and I are not usually pumpkin-flavored food fans we all liked this recipe. It’s moist and fragrant, not too sweet, with more of a gingerbread flavor than a pumpkin taste. I roasted and pureed a pumpkin the kids picked instead of using canned pumpkin, reduced the sugar to 1.5 cups, and baked it in wider shallower loaf pans for about 50-55 minutes. It’s a great way to use up pie pumpkins before Advent. Enjoy a golden slice with butter and a steaming cup of tea.

Halloween

We had a surprisingly lovely Halloween. “Lovely” isn’t the first adjective I’d usually associate with that holiday, but there it is.

The kids helped scoop out the pumpkins for jack-o-lanterns before I carved them the night before Halloween. Annie was especially into it and stayed to scoop long after the others ran off to help Daddy in the yard.

Our friends down the street invited us over for pizza and salad and then we bundled the kids up and piled out into the crisp fall air for trick-or-treating. They have three boys in the same age range as our children and we love having them as neighbors. Our kids routinely play together, we’ve had them up for s’mores, most of the children went to nature camp together this summer, and I attend a community Bible study with the mother. Our kids had a great time rushing together from house to house this year.

We live in a fairly quiet neighborhood with few children and many reserved neighbors who stick to themselves and don’t even go into their yards. After some initial loneliness here we’ve been working hard at building relationships in our community and we noticed it paying off this Halloween. It felt like such a cheerful, neighborly, social evening with friendly greetings and brief catch ups all through the neighborhood.

Our kids reveled in the unheard of privilege of ten pieces of candy before bed, enjoyed a couple more pieces each day through the weekend, and that was that.

I have mixed feelings about Halloween. My parents, concerned by the gleeful representations of evil in our town and the holiday’s historical background, decided our family would no longer celebrate Halloween when I was about eight. I respect their thoughtful decision, but also love the simple fun and pageantry of it for little kids: costumes, crunching through fallen leaves in the cold and dark with friends, friendly neighbors, treats.  Nobody in our neighborhood puts up scary decorations. There’s little preparation required (bag of candy, pumpkin or two, costumes, no house cleaning or cooking!, done) and it only lasts a day. I think one of the reasons I love Halloween is that there’s no other holiday like it for community, at least here in the United States. On Thanksgiving most people celebrate with family or close friends or perhaps invite lonely strangers. Christmas is almost always with family, New Years with family or friends, Easter with family and church, Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor day with friends or family. Halloween, though, is with your neighborhood. It’s the day when everyone with kids steps out and greets everyone else in the neighborhood, and almost every neighbor opens their door with a big smile to see the costumes and say hello to the adults. We had neighbors we barely know checking before the holiday to make sure we were planning on stopping by their house and met new neighbors who’d just moved in.

Three weeks later all the leaves are down, snow covers the ground, and I’m planning dishes for Thanksgiving. In my childhood the earliest snow I can remember was on Halloween, but in the past few years we’ve already had several rounds of sticking snow by the time Thanksgiving rolls around. It’s dark by late afternoon, and we have candles with dinner and a fire in the fireplace almost every night. Cozy season is here!

Fall Festival

The kids and I went to a nearby town’s fall festival and they rode their first Ferris Wheel. I think Annie’s expression says it all; they approved. The view from the top was actually quite beautiful; carnival lights below us, the town full of fall colors, the river, and the woods beyond.

My mom graciously joined us since The Man had to work and taking four small kids, one with sensory issues, into a loud, crowded, and visually stimulating environment is a potentially volatile combination. With her help everyone had fun, nobody got lost, and we got home in time for dinner and bed.

One of the things we’ve learned while parenting children with special needs is to set and reiterate expectations: “We’re going on one ride, getting one treat, looking at the displays, and going home.” We do our simple list and quit while we’re ahead. Our outing doesn’t have to look like another family’s outing and it’s okay to just sample a few things and leave. It’s something I wish I’d heard in our earliest days of parenting, both as special needs parents and parents of young kids: leaving early does not mean the outing was a failure!

If one ride is fun it’s tempting to do a whole slew of them, especially if the kids are begging. However, as the parent, I know my kid simply could not cope with the resulting sensory overload. Mom treated us all to funnel cakes (wow…I don’t think I’ve had one of those sugar-loaded concoctions since she treated me to one at a fair as a child!). Rather than sitting at the closest table surrounded by music, crowds, and flashing carnival lights we walked across the street to a quiet ledge in a parking lot to manage sensory input. Rather than trying to see all the fall displays and booths with the crowds we walked around the perimeter of the event. When one child started crying when she didn’t get her way I was able to recognize she was overwhelmed not defiant and popped her into the stroller to retreat even though she was “too big.” In the past I might have tried to milk an event for all it was worth: We’re here! We need to do everything! Push through, pull it together! We need to walk to all the locations! Collect all the free handouts! Look, they’re giving away pumpkins! We can make a scarecrow! In reality we are all so much happier when we do just enough. It makes it possible for a kid with special needs to still enjoy a big event, and we don’t have to put up with a whole evening’s meltdowns from over-tired children. They came home with happy memories and sparkling eyes chattering about the Ferris Wheel and everything they want to do next year.

Day in the Life

I’m always glad when I scroll back through my posts and drafts and find old Day-in-the-Life notes. A day was so different with infant twins and a husband worked long hours in the Army, with four kids two and under, and now with two kindergartners and two preschoolers. Those snapshots in time have turned into unexpected treasures for our family, although probably boring to others! There’s no such thing as a typical day here; the Man works an irregular schedule, some days are for errands, some for school, and on some days we have appointments or therapy. This, though, is one day in our life right now.

5:30 The alarm goes off. I like to be up well before the kids. This introvert has a much better day when it starts with some quiet time before my crew spills down the stairs. The Man is sick but thankfully doesn’t have a shift today so I get up quietly, dress in the dark, then head downstairs to make myself half a bagel and tea. I start to lay out the kids’ breakfast at the same time.

5:40 Sit down at the table with my breakfast (or half of it – I’m saving room to eat a bit more with the kids). I start with Bible (Psalms, right now), then catch up on Facebook, email, and my blog feed. I realize it’s September 11th when I see someone else’s post. Seventeen years later and shock still lingers at the edges for most of us. I don’t know anyone in this country who can’t remember where they were when they heard the news, and almost all of us know someone who escaped that day, or someone who died, or someone who lost or nearly lost a relative or friend. It changed my husband’s life (he joined the Army in the middle of med school) and mine, as well as our nation’s course, for better and for worse. There’s also lots of news in my feed from friends in the Carolinas preparing for Hurricane Florence. After catching up on internet news I read my current book (Dinner, a Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach), preheat the oven for breakfast, meal plan, and place our Walmart grocery order.

6:45 Mix up a baked German pancake and pop it in the oven.

6:50 Get kids up, help them potty, wipe down, lotion, dress (we lay out clothes the night before), and brush teeth. Jack is pretty independent (albeit reluctantly so) about getting himself ready, the others all still need a lot of help.

7:10 The Man is up, though sniffly and tired from poor sleep. He takes over the last of the kid prep while I finish making breakfast and put the dining room to rights after last night’s cleaning. I print a picture for Annie to share with her driver, pack the last cold items for her lunch, and do a final backpack check.

7:25 Kids are in chairs at the table for a breakfast of apples, German puffed pancakes, and milk. They listen to the Same Page podcast for Shakespeare, poetry, scripture, and presidential facts, then listen to the first half of the Wizard of Oz, Chapter 10, from the same podcast. I sit with them to eat a slice of pancake. Carl reads Genesis 3. One child heads to timeout for relentless interrupting. I unload and load the dishwasher then read a picture book to Annie, who is done with breakfast before the others, and put on respectable clothes (see “dressed in the dark” above) to take her out to the bus.

8:00 Out the door to wait for the bus. Annie rides her bike for a few minutes. The bus is early.

8:05 Text a neighbor to see if she and her kids are free to play this morning. They’re busy. Respond to a teacher’s email. Meanwhile the Man clears the dishes, tidies the kitchen and dining room, and sits down to read a stack of picture books with Jenny and Josie.

8:20 I do a reading lesson with Jack. Could’ve taken 10 minutes, takes 22 due to bouncing, sulking, and a tantrum 🙄. I release him for a couple minutes then call him back for:

8:47 Right Start Math. Jack does two lessons with me. The Man is still reading a stack of picture books to the little two, then switches them over to Magnatiles. Schoolwork is so much easier when there’s another adult in the house for crowd control! If he’s not around I put the little two in the sunroom with blocks or trains.

9:17 Little ones playing with Magnatiles. Jack joins them and I free the sneezy Man from kid duty to go rest again. I pull out art supplies and a book and prep the kitchen table for painting with a wipeable plastic table cloth.

9:30 I call the kids to the kitchen for a book and painting. This activity comes from A Year of Playing Skillfully. We read He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, illustrated by the fabulous Kadir Nelson. Then the kids make their own “worlds” by using pipettes and dripping blue and green liquid watercolors onto coffee filters. The kids love it. I’m not much of an arts and crafts mom but my kids adore painting and creating so I appreciate that AYOPS provides a steady supply of great process-oriented art projects for our kids. After painting the coffee filters they switched to paper towels and had fun watching the paint absorption patterns. Jack has been in a bad mood all morning, but as I’d hoped working with his hands settles him and snaps him out of it, as it usually does.

That child on the end isn’t smiling, she’s tantrumming because she can’t get her dropper to suck up paint. Thankfully, big brother to the rescue:

10:00 The kids wrap up painting. I help them scrub up and change out of painting clothes, then wipe down the table and put away the painting things. As the kids hit the restroom and put on shoes I clear the fridge a bit for groceries and grab a quick piece of cheese for each kid.

10:25 We’re on the road for the park a bit later than I’d like. The Man woke up from his nap right before we left and agreed to finish clearing the fridge and make lunch for everyone while we’re out. As we drive the kids listen to Mozart and I listen to my current audiobook, Just Open the Door. It’s so-so – some good ideas on hospitality, but with a “hey, girlfriend!” tone that is not my cup of tea. The statistics are what strike me most. A full 1/3 of all Americans don’t know their neighbors at all. About half of all American children eat fast food for at least one meal a day. Most American families only sit down to a meal together once every five days. It’s so foreign to the way I grew up and the way we run our family. [For really thought-provoking writing on hospitality I prefer Rosaria Butterfield’s The Gospel Comes with a House Key, read earlier this summer. Butterfield is definitely stronger with narrative than with explanatory/connecting sections but there’s a lot of meaty food for thought in her book.]

10:45 Park. I run into a lady I know casually. There’s the usual assortment of young moms with preschoolers and babies, one in snow boots because his mother has wisely chosen to pick her battles, 75 degrees or not.

11:04 The grocery order is ready. We leave the park to pick it up. More reading time via audiobook for me.

11:11 Arrive at the grocery store, wait for our order to be brought out.

11:18 Done and on our way with a week’s groceries in the trunk. Hooray for online grocery shopping! There’s no fee and I find I save money because I don’t make impulse buys as I walk through the store. The drive home is beautiful – blue sky, golden-brown corn and soybeans, and early fall colors on the trees.

11:30 Home. The man and I unload and put away groceries with varying degrees of “help” from the kids.

The Man sits down to eat lunch with the kids while I keep going to get all the food unpacked and put away. Once they’re done with lunch the kids go down for naps just in time for me to…

12:16 …Step out to pick tomatoes and wait for the bus. I say hi to the driver, spend a few minutes with Annie, then leave her to ride her bike on the driveway for a bit before nap. We’ve found the transition home goes much more smoothly when she has a few minutes exercising outdoors before coming in. I step inside to put some soup in the freezer and unpack Annie’s backpack. The Man heads up for another nap himself, feeling no better. I bring Annie in to wash her hands and get ready for nap, then read her a book (Ox Cart Man). Annie goes to her room for quiet time with a stack of books and a box of wooden trains.

12:40 Everyone in bed at last! I slip down to the kitchen to make my daily hot cocoa. Jack pops out of his room. I return Jack and sit down at the table with a book. Annie pops out of her room. I return Annie and sit down at the table. Jack pops out. Annie pops out. Finally, all children are back in their designated quiet time spaces and peace reigns. I sit down (again) with cocoa and Dinner, a Love Story, check the internet (still there…), and update this log.

1:40 Prep dinner and collect library books to return.

2:05 Kids still napping except Annie who is loudly singing in her room but playing independently, so good enough. I hand off the last bit of veggie chopping to the Man and head to the library to drop off books and pick up our holds. One the way home I pull through two grocery stores hunting for an elusive ingredient. No luck.

3:05 Home. Wake any still sleeping kids and help them with toilet, socks, and shoes. The Man buckles everyone up as I quickly whip up a pie crust and put it in the fridge to chill.

3:30 We hand the kids their afternoon snacks and waters in the car and pull out for a family hike. On the trail there are early fall colors, lots of races, rocks thrown in the creek, near misses with poison ivy, and a peaceful trek back to the car.

4:45 Home. I go in to get dinner in the oven (thank goodness we prepped in advance!) and assemble an apple pie with apples from our orchard trip the day before. The Man supervises the kids while they bike on the driveway.  I enjoy listening to a podcast while I cook and work on dishes. The Man brings the kids in and changes them into pajamas as I cook since dinner will be later than normal.

5:30 Dinner. It’s Arroz con Pollo from Dinner, A Love Story. I increased the quantities so we’d have enough for two nights. The Man and I plus two kids like it. One more kid tolerates it, and the fourth resists but eats politely enough when reminded there’s fresh apple pie for dessert so it’s a net winner on the family dinners front.

6:00 Dinner is done. We hand off back and forth with wiping up kids, brushing their teeth, doing dishes, and packing up food. One twin is assigned to wipe the table and chairs with the little two while the other twin vacuums the dining room. They’ve gotten a lot better at it over the summer! I check last minute to see if my parents can drive over for pie but they’re busy. The kids are getting antsy as warm buttery cinnamon smells waft out of the oven. The Man reads the kids some bedtime stories early since the pie is still finishing in the oven: How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World and The Apple Pie that Papa BakedBoth are fall favorites around here.

6:40 Pie! And vanilla ice cream! And paper plates because Mommy and Daddy are tired of dishes!

7:10 We clear dessert dishes. The Man takes the little two up for bed while I pack lunches for the next day. In addition to Annie’s regular school it’s co-school day for the other three. I start reading picture books to the twins.

7:35 I run out to drop off unused extra diapers at a donation drop in the next town because the Man feels too sick and tired to drive. The Man takes over story and hymn time for the twins.

8:03 Home, help put the twins down for bed. The Man and I finish packing school lunches, changes of clothes, etc. as well as doing final tidying around the house.

8:30 I join the Man at the table with a cup of tea and a book. We both read a bit and chat about the next day’s plans, then he keeps reading and I fill out paperwork for Lucy’s school.

9:00 I check that doors and windows are locked and close down the kitchen. We get ready for bed a bit earlier than usual since we’ll need to make an early start to get everyone out the door for school in the morning. We read a bit. The Man checks kids one last time before lights out at 9:40. 

(Third) First Day of School

After sending Annie off to kindergarten two weeks ago and getting back to homeschool work last week we had our last first day of school this fall earlier this week. Jack, Jenny, and Josie headed off to a Charlotte Mason cottage school. Their classes meet once a week. Jack’s class has a full range of subjects, while the little two have a low-key preschool class with lots of play, stories, and time in nature. Afterwards everyone gathers for lunch and recess. There’s no homework but they do send home the schedule and suggested readings (modified from the Alveary curriculum) so that you can build a full Charlotte Mason home curriculum around the program if you like. I was impressed with the books, the teachers, and the kids, and appreciated how orderly and timely everything was – not always the case when homeschoolers gather!

We were also pleasantly surprised by the school’s diversity. When I was growing up most local homeschool groups were 98% white (actually, those were the diverse ones 😉). This tiny school has a significant proportion of African American and Hispanic students as well as an African American teacher. In addition, this school is doing a good job of modifying the set curriculum to offer a more diverse and global perspective versus a narrowly white perspective. While we appreciate the benefits of homeschooling, classical education, and Charlotte Mason, many  classically-oriented curriculums focus almost 100% on white authors and individuals, particularly those curriculums that insist on only using books Miss Mason would have used. When they do give a nod to diversity it’s only in connection to slavery or the Civil Rights era. What a loss! What kind of “feast” are we spreading for our kids when we only ever serve “food” from one place or category? I think it’s possible (critical, really) to embrace the richness of European cultural heritage while ALSO embracing the richness the rest of the world has to offer. Likewise, it’s important to teach our kids that not only white Europeans or North Americans (or Australians, or colonizers, or what have you) have contributed to their countries.

For example, two commonly recommended books for lower elementary students in Charlotte Mason curriculums are Fifty Famous Stories Retold by James Baldwin and Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans by Edward Eggleston. To be honest, I’m not sure I would’ve thought twice about them before adopting African American kids. They’re similar to curriculum books from my childhood. The stories are well told and offer rich ideas for young children. As books, there’s nothing especially wrong with them at first glance. I’m all for reading classics, while occasionally verbally editing the author’s tone or antiquated viewpoints for my kids. Even now, I’ll happily read most of those stories to my children. However, used in isolation or read only with like books, they offer a painfully narrow view of the world. Out of fifty stories, only two specifically referred to non-European characters (Genghis Khan and a “lazy king of the East”, while two more were not specific to any nation). Likewise in Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans mention is made of Native Americans but every hero is white (and almost every hero is male, but that’s another issue…). When we think we’re teaching history, we’re also teaching viewpoints. In this case, that only white Americans have been “great Americans.” Used exclusively such books build a myopic view of history and the world. At worst, they implicitly teach white supremacy and racism, quite often without parents’ awareness. I grew up with similar books and until embarrassingly late I thought we didn’t learn about, for example, Africa or Southeast Asia because nothing important had happened there. I thought that everything that “mattered” had occurred in the Middle East or Europe (plus gunpowder and paper from China) because that’s all my books discussed. I want my kids, black and white, to grow up with classic stories of Washington or Audubon or King Arthur or Socrates. I ALSO want them to grow up with stories of wise and heroic kings and queens from Africa and know Mexican folktales and the history of India. I want them to know about the history of European settlers in our area. I ALSO want them to know about the Native American who had cities and villages here for hundreds of years before the Europeans arrived. All that to say, in a roundabout way, that I’m happy this school is embracing western classics while giving the kids a wider viewpoint. We’ll continue to work on the same goals at home.

As someone who experienced both the rich benefits and the pitfalls of homeschooling myself I’d encourage you (homeschooler or not) to inventory your own bookshelves and your children’s bookshelves. What kind of faces are reflected in their books? What usually comes home from the library? Is one group usually the main character and another always relegated to sidekick? Which heroes are your children learning about on a daily basis? Once in a while? Not at all? What perspectives, explicit or implicit, will our children take in about themselves, other citizens of our countries, or other people around the world from the books around them?