Chapter 8 of Edith Schaeffer’s Hidden Art of Homemaking is about food, and there are so many ways to take this hidden art that I haven’t been able to find traction in any one direction. Cooking is a hobby of mine. It has been an area of hidden art in my life since I was 10 or 11. Breadmaking is a hobby (one my [skinny] husband encourages). “I bet I could make that myself” runs through my head whenever I enjoy a food outside my home. I mastered yogurt this year. It’s actually pretty easy. I make most of our food at home from scratch, largely because I enjoy doing so and because I think it tastes better that way.
I spent several years figuring out and organizing a way to get simple, homemade, hearty fare on the table without taking hours a day or hours to plan and shop weekly. I solved that problem for myself, then made it pretty and now have a little income coming in from selling it as Simplified Dinners. It really is how I actually menu plan and cook, to this day. I only stock the ingredients on my master pantry list, saving me coupon-clipping and grocery-list-generating time and also means I can keep my sanity at the grocery store (with 5 children) because I walk by 90% of what they’re trying to sell me.
Someday, perhaps, I will expand again and get gourmet and experiment with different flavors. My style right now is homespun. And I think it’s great fun to see the real diversity of food that can be created with the limited palette of my pantry items. Often artistry and experimentation and fun are aided by limits and boundaries, and food is no exception to that principle.
Besides the art expressed in the making of the food itself, there is the enjoying of the product together:
The cook in the home has opportunity to be doing something very real in the area of making good human relationships.
There is something both elemental and symbolic about feeding people. It is a tangible grace that we can give our families and any others God sends our way.
When we have newborns, we see more easily the connection between love and feeding. Babies nurse and feed their bellies as well as their spirits with the milk made just for them. That doesn’t actually change after they are weaned. They still receive the food provided for them as tangible, edible care, affection, love.
Hospitality is another way of showing through table and meal fellowship that we care for one another: body and soul, whole person together.
And sometimes that hospitality is not even in our homes. It is also edible love and hospitality when we take meals to families with new babies, people with a serious illness, and the elderly.
A church function simply wouldn’t be a church function without coffee and refreshments shared together. Where two or three are gathered, there will be cookies. Eating together knits us together, both as nuclear families and as the Body of Christ.
But all that food must be made.
And if there is fellowship in the eating of the food together, how much more so is there in the making of the food together.
Mrs. Schaeffer writes,
For growing children at play, there is nothing so interesting as really ‘doing things.’ To ‘help cook’ is one of the most enjoyable things of childhood – to say nothing of being a sure way of producing good cooks.
“Dinner helper” is often one of the first resolves I neglect when my time or temper or energy runs low, but it would be better if I could take a breath, get the grace, and still invite my children in with me during that crazy time of day. After all, living together is what we’re all about, right? And what is more elemental to living together than preparing meals?
My children love being dinner helper. They peel carrots, chop olives, help roll rolls, top pizzas, stir the pot, open the oven for me, help me clean as we go, grab things from the cupboards and pantries and fridge, spin the salad, flip tortillas or flatbreads, scrub potatoes, crack the eggs – and then pinch out the shell bits. It is this kind of participation in the kitchen that will give them poetic knowledge of food and cooking and meals.
The kitchen should be an interesting room in which communication takes place between child and mother and also among adults.
The kitchen is where people naturally congregate. It is the least artificial of environments. The living room helps us all put on our manners and sit and converse politely, but in the kitchen real stuff and real life happen. There it is easier to share life. There we should invite in not only guests, but even our children. It is so tempting to send them off and get them out of the way so we can just make dinner already, but the easy way is so often not the best way.
So I, for one, am encouraged by this chapter to revisit opening my kitchen and my time to my children and taking the time and using the energy to really, truly live life together.
I have a 5-year-old daughter who is only barely beginning to learn phonics and blend. She’s currently on the second Bob Book. So she is beginning to read, but only just, and with much labor. My 3-year-old son sits in on the phonics lessons, and knows all the sounds we’ve learned so far as well as my daughter, so I’m getting a 2-for-1 deal on phonics time by having him sit next to me on the other side of the couch while I work with my daughter.
Of course, the real bonus of having him there is that he’s not stealing his brother’s gum or falling off swings or climbing the bookcases or eating sugar out of the canister or any number of other creative 3-year-old-boy-type things he would otherwise be doing.
So, at least 3 times a week, I plan to spend 20-30 minutes with my 5-year-old and 3-year-old on the couch, one on each side, doing the following:
We’ll spend just 5 minutes going over our phonogram chart and a word list, then read a Bob Book (moving on to a couple pages of a beginning reader when she’s ready).
Next we’ll read a chapter from one of our Bible story books. My daughter has a penchant for always requesting Adam & Eve, any version, every time. Usually I indulge this request. Everything hinges on Genesis 1-3 anyway, right?
Poem or Mother Goose
We’ll read a page or two from a poetry book to round things out and wrap things up.
Depending on the day and my energy or our schedule, I’ll try to add in a picture book of their choice, as well. But my 3yo is always requesting St. George and the Dragon right now, which takes 17.3 minutes to read, so practically requires its own time slot.
During math time, my 5-year-old will work in Math-U-See’s Primer (she’s already halfway through) and my 3-year-old will have various number sheets when he wants to “do school” like everyone else.
Of course, they both will also be a part of Circle Time, where they are getting their singing, catechism, and Bible memory.
Other than these things, along with a heaping serving of reading aloud (or listening to audio books), I believe that the most important thing they could be doing is free, unorganized-by-adults play, whether it be with open-ended toys, puzzles, or outdoors.
We’ll be doing something a little different this year for our elementary “content” lessons: Bible, history, science, literature, and art study. These lessons will happen twice a week, and a neighbor friend and I will swap kids during that time. She will have the 5-and-under crowd (6 total, but Geneva will hopefully be in her own bed napping) and I will have the 7-and-up crowd (4 students). We’ve scheduled a 2-hour block, but that time will include our transportation and transition times, so I’m counting on not much more than an hour of actual lesson time.
My friend and I are quite hopeful that this calendar commitment to one another will increase the consistency of both our homeschools. :)
We’ll do one lesson from the book each time we meet:
use a review question to engage our memories and attention
read the OT passage (or listen on audio)
read the lesson in the book (they all develop how the OT speaks of Christ and the Gospel)
kids can color a coloring sheet of the story while they listen
use one or two of the questions as a narration/conversation prompt
And, once every six weeks or so, we’ll review by using the questions in the lesson as conversation prompts and we’ll go over the Line of Promise with timeline figures.
History (~20 minutes)
We did ancient times this past year, so we’re in medieval times this year. Our focus during lesson time will be on church history and medieval England. I’ll read a section from one of the following books:
We’ll talk about it afterwards, or do a written or oral or drawing narration, depending on how the day and the dynamics work out.
We’ll also do Classical-Conversations-esque history sentence memory. Last year I put these in our Circle Time binder, but this year I’m going to try it during this time. I pick some of the essential events (like the Magna Carta) and print off a full-sheet timeline figure with sentence from the Homeschool in the Woods timeline CD.
My emphasis throughout will be on people more than events or wars or politics. Our lessons don’t at all comprise a thorough study of history, but my intent is more to introduce people and times and whet their appetites.
Rather than complete and in-depth study, I am primarily interested in the students being able to hear a short lesson and then talk about or write about it afterward. So, it’s attention-building more than scientific study.
On Thursdays, we’ll see if I might actually finally manage to do art study ala Charlotte Mason. Our options will include:
Art narration: choose a print in a library art book, set the timer for 5 minutes, have everyone look intently at it until the timer rings, close the book, then have them take turns telling a detail they remember until we run out.
Coloring: Use a masterpiece coloring page & a print (from a library book) and have them color the coloring page as realistically as they can.
Drawing: Have them try their hands at copying a masterpiece (from a library book) free-hand.
So, that’s about 1 hour and 5 minutes worth of lessons (I’m estimating) that we’ll have 2 hours (or, an hour and a half after walking down the street both ways, most likely) reserved for. Without the 5-year-olds and 3-year-olds in the picture, I think we just might be able to do it.
We continue to plug away slowly at Latin, but our momentum picked up in the last few months of this school year, so I’m hoping to build on that and keep it chugging next year.
Two years ago I started Hans (now almost-10) in Latin for Children Primer A. Even with our increased momentum the last few months, we ended still in Primer A with 4 lessons to go. This coming year, Hans will wrap up A and move on to B and Jaeger (8) will begin A.
My goal is that we actually learn the Latin we study, not necessarily finish and check off a curriculum box, so the book does not determine our pace or when we are finished for the year. If that means we do “less” Latin in terms of progression of texts, but we actually do know that Latin, I’m still happy. Multum non Multa: Much not many. I am in favor of the mastery approach to learning.
And, yes, I am using the first person plural: we. We are learning Latin. I still have the advantage in the studies and have simply done the work along side Hans because Latin for Children spends plenty of time on grammar, which I already know (and I had several years of Spanish, so I had a head-start on conjugating) and I am able to connect the Latin vocabulary with Latin-based words I already know. If Latin is actually a good thing to study, then I am going to study it with my children and prove it rather than play hypocritical teacher-mom. Moreover, even though we are using the Latin for Children video lessons, if they are actually going to learn it, they need someone to bounce their work off of, whether they need help or not. I want this house to be a community of learning, not a group of isolated scholastics.
So, when the [cough] philosophy hits the fan, turns out I have to learn Latin, too.z
But, between my grammar and vocabulary head-start and Latin for Children’s clear and slow progression, I am simply working with my oldest, and not doing any studies ahead. So far it’s been perfectly adequate.
Still, I have a feeling that I’ll be able to help Jaeger work through A much more efficiently and effectively simply because it’s now fresh for me and I have the big picture of where the book is going and what he’s supposed to get out of each lesson.
Also, I have picked up a few tactics for practice, because we needed more conjugating and language practice than the workbook provided in order to get mastery of the concepts.
So, here’s my plan for moving us all forward in Latin this coming year.
Latin Lesson Day
Mondays we’ll spend 30-60 minutes focused on Latin and either beginning the next lesson or working on the current hurdle. This is when we’ll watch the Latin lesson video (and they can watch each other’s if they want; I don’t care) and when I’ll carve out the time to make sure we really work on this subject.
This will be my hands-on helping and tutoring and learning time. The rest of the week will be independent assignments where I correct and help as needed, but just in the course of the day and not as a focused, instructional time.
No, I don’t know exactly how I’ll carve out 30-60 minutes to focus on Hans & Jaeger exclusively with a 5-year-old, an active 3-year-old, and a baby who will be moving by then, but I’ll let you know if I find strategies that actually work in real life and not just in theory. If it becomes necessary, then I will use screen time (computer games rather than videos) to entertain them (and have the baby in her ‘saucer); I don’t think that it would be the end of the world.
Latin Reinforcement Work
The rest of the week I will give both boys daily work in Latin to reinforce the current lesson and help them put together what they’ve learned so far.
I really like Classical Academic Press‘s materials, and I like Christopher Perrin and his quirky videos, but the workbooks don’t leave enough space for an 8-year-old boy’s handwriting and are too fill-in-the-blank focused to really provide the synthesizing exercises necessary to learn a language.
So, I will assign the workbook pages (Hans loves the derivatives page), but I will also assign things like:
Write a Latin sentence for each of this chapter’s vocabulary words.
Write a Latin sentence using one of this chapters’ verbs, one for each tense/person/number.
Write a Latin sentence for each of the sentence patterns you’ve learned so far.
Write Latin sentences that use the third person imperfect tense and include an adjective.
Decline the nouns from chapter x.
Conjugate the verbs x, y, and z.
This is where it becomes evident that I have to know what we’re doing. It is in working through these sorts of assignments that we really figure out how to do Latin (I have to figure it out, and Hans is watching me talk through figuring it out), and as we work through it, I am much more likely to see where his misconceptions and trouble spots are.
And, I am a mean teacher in addition to a mean mom. The assignment given is not done until it’s completed completely and correctly, whether it’s math or Latin. Some days (many days), it’s a slog with tears, but mastery doesn’t come by trying, getting it partly right, and receiving an 82%.
Latin is a brain exercise. That’s the primary reason we’re studying it. I don’t care if we ever read Homer or anyone in their original Latin. What I care about is that we are able to push ourselves past the point of wanting to give up and reach that summit where it dawns on us, “Hey, I can actually do this!”
If you, also, find yourself needing to learn Latin with your child, make sure to follow Brandy’s series:
This chapter is surprisingly varied and passionate for what one might expect to be a brief, boring chapter. I do hope others in the book club take up some of the topics covered, and I encourage you to click on the link above to find those posts.
I am going to stick to the main point, because it’s one of those things I’d like to do, don’t do, and about which I had sudden inspiration while reading the chapter. I will share my practical solution to actually accomplishing the addition of a touch of personality and fleeting beauty, without a flower budget, a cutting garden, or a degree in artistic design.
I believe strongly that the suppressing of hidden artistic talents or appreciation has the effect of warping us as personalities. So I feel that this beautifying of meal tables and trays with hidden artistic and original ideas is a very simple area indeed in which to start fulfilling one’s own needs, through the freedom of expression, and adding another dimension to the day.
The timing of this chapter is poignant, because my birthday was Saturday. Every year since we started courting at 18, my husband has given me a bouquet of red roses, with roses equal to my age. Several years ago I told him I’d be happy to stay 24 until I’m 36, but he will not have it. He has kept his word, given to me 13 years ago.
I do love the roses. Deep red, formal, perfect. Early June always finds me planning and tweaking my systems, so I have a large, lovely, aromatic backdrop as I type, list, and scheme. And I am reminded how much I do like the touch of flowers.
[Communication] is also helped by atmosphere, and the atmosphere is helped by the things which are arranged with love and with an expression of creativity in a visible form.
My roses will last a few more days, and then I will miss having that special something there as I think and plan and I will be inspired again to try my hand at keeping flowers in the house.
I must add one more sentence to this chapter: please try something in this area today. The only way to start, is to start.
So, I did.
I missed the daffodils and the lilacs this year. Several times I thought, “I should go cut a few sprigs for the table.” And I never did.
So, I took my scissors and I set a stopwatch-timer. It took me 5 minutes and 47 seconds to get the scissors, go out the front door, over to the side yard, select 5 roses to cut, make it back in, and stick them in a vase. Five or six minutes. Not long. Worth every second. That five minutes yielded me a rose on the dining table, on my kitchen window, and – because I’m in there a lot this week due to potty training – the bathroom.
While reading the chapter, I started narrating to myself my difficulties in actually pulling off centerpieces or freshly cut flowers. One big one is that it seems when I do go to the trouble (ok, that probably shows my attitude about it there; it’s more of a “should” than a delight) of putting together a centerpiece, it gets messed with by little hands, it gets in the way of school time, or it has to be moved for a game or project. Our table sees so much varied activity, that a centerpiece seems both fussy and in the way.
I don’t know if it was one of the sketches or a certain phrasing, but all the sudden I saw in my mind’s eye the solution to this trouble: a small tray. If I create a centerpiece on a small tray, it solves almost all my complaints:
It can easily and quickly be moved over to the top of the piano when it’s in someone’s way. Even the children could move it.
It limits the size and creates a “canvas” that is easier to conceive than the entire table (our table is long).
It can be kept simple but still look special because the tray sets it apart and says “This is a centerpiece” rather than “This is more junk on the table to clear.”
It can easily be lifted or moved when cleaning the table, and without messing it up, unlike last time I tried a centerpiece, when the line of candles drove me crazy because they were never in a line.
This tray still has a sticker from the local thrift store that says 75c. The vase, also, was 50c.
Small, simple, special. This I can do without scouring Martha Stewart magazines and taking a class in bouquet creation.
I love the planning time of year. The possibilities seem boundless and the potential is invigorating.
None of these elements are a completely new thing in how we do things; each is a slight development and building upon previous years. The following Circle Time plan is simply continuing to develop our previous years and experiences. We started with 10-15 minutes five years ago. I tried a 60-90 minute plan at one point (way too early) and pared it back. Last year we spent about 30 minutes singing & reciting, and it was the right amount of time. The pace was brisk, I didn’t belabor anything (I can be a killjoy), and it didn’t [usually] leave the children exhausted by the end (not that I can say the same for myself). So I’m keeping the format and the amounts that worked so well last year, and only adding a 2-3 minute additional tab to my binder (not the children’s) for even/odd where we’ll work on short verses (like Proverbs) and catechism, repeated from memory rather than reading along.
This year my third and fourth children are the same ages as my first and second were when we began Circle Time and short official school times. So, as I put the materials for the year together, I tried to balance adding in new and challenging work for the older set and yet not leaving out and leaving behind the old stuff suited for the 5 & 3 year old. It does the older pair good to have it repeated, anyway.
1. Personal Devotions
Everyone will finish up math at different times, so instead of letting them run off and get lost or wrapped up in something else while they wait for Circle Time, they will grab their Bibles (or Bible picture book in the case of non-readers) and have the time to read the Bible for themselves. Last year I printed off a Bible reading checklist so they could check off how much they had read. In the daily wear and tear, those sheets didn’t last long. I’ll try it again this year, printing it on heavier paper with hole-punch reinforcements. However, mostly I am just hoping to instill the habit of daily Bible reading, and they can pick and choose where they want to read, since all Scripture is profitable.
2. Group Devotional Reading (3-5 minutes)
At 8:30 (so my hopeful schedule says), I’ll pull out the binders, tell any still working on math to set it aside, and open our time together by reading aloud a short chapter from a devotional-type book. Just in the last couple months of school I started opening Circle Time by reading a chapter from Boyhood and Beyond by Bob Schultz, and Hans and Jaeger both really enjoy it. We didn’t finish the book yet, so we’ll pick up with the last handful of chapters when we begin again. Here’s my line-up of selections for the year:
Some days the reading will be skipped if I am pressed for time, or have a sore throat, or some other excuse. Rather than schedule the books out with specificity, we’ll read the next chapter and move on to the next book when we finish one. Just as we didn’t finish Boyhood and Beyond by the end of our school year, we might not finish these by the end of this school year. No big deal. This is a “do the next thing” category, not a “must finish this set amount” assignment.
3. Prayer (2-3 minutes)
I start by praying for our day and our attitudes and thanking God that we have this time together, then each of the children takes a turn praying, with an emphasis on thanking God for all He has provided.
New hymn (one per term); new this year: Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee, All Hail the Power of Jesus Name, All People that on Earth Do Dwell, I Waited for the Lord, Rock of Ages, It Is Well.
New Psalm (one per two terms); new this year: 16, 100, 20
New Heidelberg selections (two per two terms): Lord’s Day 2 & 3, Lord’s Day 9 & 21, Q&A 52 & 53
New Scripture passage. This year we’ll recite Ephesians, one chapter per term.
Hans’ poem (one per term): Charge of the Light Brigade, Tennyson; The Children’s Song, Kipling; To Be a Pilgrim, Bunyan; The Sluggard, Watts; Land of Counterpane, Stevenson.
Jaeger’s poem (one per term): A Good Play, Stevenson; Stopping By the Woods; Marching Song, Stevenson; Four Things, Van Dyke; Summer Sun, Stevenson; The Boy We Want.
Ilse & Knox’s poem (one per term): Happy Thought, Stevenson; Purple Cow; Whole Duty of Children; Now We Are Six, Milne; Once I Saw a Little Bird; Wise Old Owl.
My poem (one per term): A Litany, Donne; An Apology, Bradstreet; All the World’s a Stage, Shakespeare; Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind, Shakespeare; Death Be Not Proud, Donne; As Spring the Winter Doth Succeed, Bradstreet.
Hans & Jaeger helped pick their poems this year. I have a poem, too, because all this memorizing and poetry is good not only for the children. And, I love Donne.
This section will be in my binder only, and we will do it by my reading a line and the children chorusing it back.
Creed (Apostle’s or Nicene or Lord’s Day 1); this we will actually all recite this together
A Proverb (I picked a handful I thought we could all use)
Short review Psalm or passage (ones I want the little ones not to miss)
Heidelberg Catechism (1-2 Q&A)
Children’s Catechism (10-15 Q&A per day)
This material would have been all Circle Time was (plus singing) when the older boys were beginning. Because it’s review for them (and familiar by repetition to the youngers), we’ll have a momentum to get through it that we didn’t have in the early years, and it doesn’t take as much time as it used to.
Day of the Week:
Each day of the week will have a different set of review, which will change each term.
Other review (motto or poem or catechism or another passage)
5. Calculadder Drill (3 minutes)
I think a 2-minute Calculadder drill would fit most conveniently at this point, but we’ll have to see how it actually plays out.
6. Playlist (5-8 minutes)
After Circle Time is over, I turn on a playlist with memory songs like Geography Songs, books of the Bible, Shurley grammar chants, Latin chants, history timeline songs etc. I have a different playlist for each day of the week, and the content rotates each term, too. At this point it’s all review. That plays while the kids get up, put away their binder, and move and get their wiggles out after being at the table at attention for so long. While it plays, I move laundry and straighten things up and line up what’s next.
It’s more memory material, but it feels like a break.