I've been writing a post looking back over the last year, but I just keep feeling like there's more to say, so it will come out hopefully later next week. In that post, I was talking so much about the three things we prioritized during the beginning stages of the pandemic that I decided it needed to be its own post.
When we were in prayer right after things went crazy, I felt a strong pull towards just being together, but more specifically, toward three simple things: being outside, reading aloud, and learning life skills. It started out as just self preservation, we didn't know what life was going to be like and it seemed like it would be a short time, so we liked the idea of a quick challenge to focus on while the world was crazy. Little did we know our short experiment would turn into over a year of uncertainty and many, many meals cooked by kids in the Holmquist house. I'll go in depth on how we leaned into these three things, and how we're all doing a year later.
In March in Nebraska, it's just starting to warm up enough, and if you can get outside on a day the wind isn't blowing a million miles an hour, it's downright beautiful after a long winter. Last year we learned about bald eagles nesting at the state park near our community, so we started tromping out to the lake in our bog boots to walk on the beaches and share one set of binoculars between the six of us.
Calamus Reservoir State Recreation Area is like a hidden gem out here in the Sandhills. I mean, I didn't know having white sandy beaches on a lake in Nebraska was even possible. And I thought you had to go to places like Canada and Alaska to see bald eagles up close. Come March, we were having absolutely amazing adventures with just ten minutes of prep before we left, eight minutes of driving, and zero dollars spent all because we challenged ourselves to get outside.
I found myself digging into homeschool curriculum and found nature study to be something I could introduce while giving us a taste of homeschooling as well as getting that golden vitamin D. We gathered up inexpensive sketch books, colored pencils, and our camping chairs, and we would sit out at a nearby pond or our lovely lake and sketch for ten minutes, then explore until I dragged them home.
Seriously though, just being outside was so good for our souls. Karen Kelly's quote, "Children cannot bounce off the walls if there are none." kept floating through my mind during that time, and it was so, so true because my kids were so well behaved! I've already stocked up with sidewalk chalk for this summer!
Several years ago when it was just little Lily, tiny Adair, and itty bitty Oakley, we all read aloud the Little House on the Prairie series as a family every evening. We would only do a few pages accounting for tiny attention spans, but Lily remembered those times together and specifically asked to read those aloud together.
Immediately after deciding to make the switch to a homeschooling lifestyle, we ditched the materials from the public school and started a daily morning time and a couple of months of deschooling. And during morning time, we would spend 30-45 minutes reading every single day. It was so restorative to snuggle in and listen to the sweet stories.
I learned about Read Aloud Revival while exploring the homeschool world, and fell in love with Sarah Mackenzie's podcast and website. We started reading even more and with a wider variety once I dove into her book lists.
In public school the kids were on the Accelerated Reader program, which I'm sure is fine for getting a lot kids to read books, but I felt like it limited them by requiring kids to read only in a tight reading level. Adair was drawn to picture books and at first I found myself pushing her towards beginner chapter books, but Read Aloud Revival encouraged me to let her find a love for reading without pushing reading level. Sure enough, by the end of the year, she was reading beginner chapter books and doing really well.
Learning Life Skills
One of the first conversations that came up when we started talking about homeschooling was having the opportunity to teach our kids things that don't happen in public school such as cooking, home management, and entrepreneurship. Immediately after the kids' school was canceled, we assigned each kid a night and they got to help with supper. I wrote a bit about how we did that in my Normal Kids in the Kitchen Kit, so you can pop over and download that resource, but I didn't go into the changes in my children individually.
Lily (11) was already making her way around the kitchen because it was something she was interested in, but when she was allowed to make the entire meal happen rather than just a batch of cookies, she absolutely blossomed. It was so fun to watch her try new and harder things and succeed.
Adair (8) has never been super interested in cooking, but she jumped at the chance to just hang out with me as we cooked. Some days I would have her read to me instead, but I found that she loves a recipe that takes some moving parts rather than just cooking some meat and roasting veggies.
Oakley (7) was ALL about it from the start, and the first meal she chose was an ambitious spaghetti and meatballs. Daddy helped her form and cook the meatballs, then I showed her how to make a marinara and boil pasta, bake bread, and prep a salad. The girl was a boss in the kitchen.
Coy (5) has been more like Adair in that he's not super interested, but does always look forward to his night just to have Mom to himself, if not to actually learn how to cook. Lately he has been enjoying writing a menu, painstakingly copying the meal components onto a piece of paper that he tapes on the door by our table. He's five, so this is great!
And me? My patience grew. Watching them and cooking with them was so darn fun I didn't have to draw on that patience. I became more confident in them and allowed them to actually become a help. I didn't realize how much I was in my own way before, but I didn't have time to teach them before. I had time, I just didn't make time to teach them. I remembered deciding in high school that I would help do the cooking so I wouldn't have to help clean up, and how my dad taught me to cook spaghetti. I was, and still am, so thankful he took the time to teach me so that I could start off adult like with that leg up, and I'm thankful I get to teach my own kids.
Looking Back, Looking Forward
Over the last year we've all learned a lot. Even if you didn't do a challenging project or take on a new hobby, I'll bet you learned something and that's awesome. I couldn't have started my first year as a homeschool mom in a better way, though the transition was a little rough, it was so helpful to have these landmarks to steer us. Even now when I have friends ask about homeschooling I recommend they base their first year off of a few things like these that are very important to their family.
Next year, I won't base every decision and schedule around these quite so literally, but they're extremely important things to our family, so they will be woven through constantly. But we learned that cooking as a chore makes all chores sound less crummy. And that we love nature study, walking at the lake in the off season, and that the Sandhill Cranes are absolutely worth the day trip to see. And we learned that we can go on wild and wonderful adventures through reading together and talking about these lovely books.
What about you? What are you Three Things? Fill me in below in the comments!