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Homeschooling Holy Week

Holy Week with little kids (or medium kids) (or, hell, probably big kids too) can be…trying. It’s beautiful and wonderful but so much to do and so many naps missed.

(Full disclosure, it is I who weep for the loss of naps, not my three-year-old.) 

I think it’s so important to mark this week with them though- these are the most holy days of our year, and hopefully just having them be there (even if they’re asleep in my arms in pajamas, like Buddy usually is during the vigil) will be a good memory and lesson for them. I have nothing but happy memories of attending the Triduum liturgy as a kid (enough to know that it’s one liturgy,) and while I’ll write more about how special it is to our family next time, it’s such a beautiful time.

So obviously we attend the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, Good Friday services (not Mass- one of my religious pet peeves, right up there with the Immaculate Conception being about Jesus) and the Easter Vigil.  That forms the basis of our week and is what I’ve tried to build the curriculum around this year. 

Squeaks is in first grade, so she’s getting more in depth this year. We’re reading the Passion narratives in her Magnifikid. This serves two purposes- she gets to read them out loud and learn things and talk about them with me, and she is familiar with them (including physically on the page) on Thursday and Friday when we go to church. 

This year we’re starting a new game too- a Holy Week trivia game! 


I know! Get excited! 

There’s a board (kind of) and everything but this year she’s pretty little so I just go through the (easy) questions with her and she gets a certain number of points, which get translated into sacrifice noodles.

Kid loves her some sacrifice noodles.


We’re also bringing back the Resurrection Egg set from last year. I bought it, because I’m lazy, but I know you can make them too. It’s super cute, each egg has a symbol of the Passion in it, and you read a little story about each one.

(Okay I have to edit the stories because mine were written by a Protestant company and are just a TEENSY bit heretical.)

(Again. LAZY.)

Squeaks looooves these. She literally asks for them all year. 

We also make an effort to do the stations of the cross this week. Our parish does a living stations with the school kids tomorrow night, and we absolutely love it. We’ve taken the kids the last few years and it brings it to life in a way they have never seen before.

So that’s our cobbled together Holy Week curriculum/tradition. Stay tuned for next year when I get my shit together and buy purple fabric to drape all of our statues. 

Latin for Dummies. (And 7-year-olds.)

I had a lot of reasons for deciding to homeschool my kids, like I don’t like being told what to do and other people annoy me.

(Also intelligence blah blah blah.)

(Basically other people though. They really bug me.)

But a big part was that I wanted to give my children a classical education that prepared them to be civilized, cultured adults who knew things about a lot of the world and could learn more and discuss things like reasonable people.  I didn’t see a lot of this happening at the schools I had access to, and while there are great options like Aquinas Academy in our area, I was certainly not in a financial position to do those.

And I knew from the beginning that Latin was going to play a huge role in my curriculum. My husband and I have something like eight years of Latin between us, and we both think the fact that the other studied it is adorable.

(Nothing gets me hotter than a properly declined noun.)

I just think there are so many benefits- spiritually as Catholics, culturally as, well, cultured people, and neurologically since it’s totally a foreign language even if it’s dead.

Our daughter is in first grade this year, and the curriculum company we use for most things offers a great early elementary level Latin program. I added it to my cart, broke it up into weekly lesson plans, and got psyched to impart my wisdom on my kid. Ahhh.

And then…it imploded. This program? Is awesome. Really. It is. Check out the Prima Latina program from Seton.

But it is NOT how my seven-year-old currently learns.

It was frustrating to me, since I really wanted this to be a part of our homeschooling. But I didn’t want to squash her love of learning by forcing her to do things she didn’t like when it was clearly not working. But then I’m her teacher so I have to force her to do some things she doesn’t want, so maybe this should be it?

Anyway, by Christmas break, Latin was increasingly getting ignored because I didn’t feel like fighting her to sit down and use a workbook.

I figured we’d have to wait a few years to tackle Latin. I get it, I mean, I was in seventh grade when I started, and my husband was in high school. It wasn’t the end of the world. But I really loved the idea of it being such a part of her life from the beginning. And I knew that other schools (like Aquinas) did it with great success.

So I prayed to the Blessed Mother about it for like two months, and continued ignoring it.

A tiny little idea came to me.

Just teach her the Ave Maria.

I can do that. I’ve taught her literally every other prayer I know. I’ll just teach her the Ave Maria and even if she doesn’t sit down and use the workbook, at least she’ll learn some of the words.

And then I realized- SHE’LL LEARN THE WORDS. Literally, this is how to teach children anything.

(Sometimes I wonder if Mary is sick of my stupidity.)

So I taught her the sign of the cross, and the Ave Maria. And once we did that- amazing things happened.


I realized I could weave Latin through the rest of our school. We recite the prayers together all the time. I sing her the Ave Maria (Gregorian chant version- I do not have a great voice, and it’s the only one that doesn’t make ears bleed when I attempt it.) We practice cursive and handwriting by copying the Latin words.

We even used it as an art class- I write the Latin words and English words on a sheet and the kids cut them out and glue them on to construction paper. I laminate them and put them on a ring and they have a special prayer book to bring with them in the car or to Mass.


There’s no fighting, my kids are learning new things and praying a ton, and even the stuff I was worried about don’t seem to be an issue. I was concerned that they’d just memorize words and never really think about what they mean. But last week my daughter was reading her card and said, “Mulieribus- that means something about women right?”

Heart= warmed.

So that’s the wisdom I’ve picked up from this second year of homeschooling. You can teach your kids things. Hard things. Just make it small and fun and not terrifying. Don’t flip out about it.

And pray. Because Mary will listen to you. Even if you should have been able to figure this out before.

Raising Strong Catholic Daughters

I read this article over the weekend. It’s an interview with seven Catholic homeschooling moms on what they’re doing to make sure they are raising strong daughters. I absolutely love all of their answers, and it got me thinking about the kinds of things that I’m doing to make sure Squeaks is becoming a strong, capable woman of God.

Mostly there are things I want her to know. I want her to understand why we do everything we do and why it’s important. I want her to know these things.

1.) I love you. I will always love you.That doesn’t mean I won’t ever be mad at you.

2.) I can disapprove of things you do or decisions you make, but I will always always love you.Speaking of which, disapproval or righteous condemnation of sin is not hate or fear or being mean. It must be followed with loving urging to return the path that God intended for them.

3.) That goes for your own sins too. Go to confession often, and confess well. Find a priest that understands you, and pushes you to address the sins you commit most frequently. I don’t know what those will be yet, since you’re only seven, but I know that you will have them. You’re human.

4.) I am not going to be your friend at the cost of being your mother and keeping you safe (morally and physically.) That being said, I hope that we will be best friends, like I am with my mom.

5.) Your sibling(s- if I ever get not crazy enough to give you another) are the greatest gift and best friend God will give you for this period in your life. Treasure him. Stay close to him, even when you’re grown up.

6.) Your father loves you more than you will ever know. Fathers are so important, especially for girls. And yours happens to be a wonderful man who is full of faith and love and he genuinely tries to do what is best for you every day. Never forget that.

7.) I am making you work hard in school. I will continue to do so. Study hard, so that you can have all options open to you. Know how much I loved and treasure my education, and how important education is to our family. You will never have a worthless degree. You will always learn something about the world and yourself through a careful study of anything you care to set your mind to.

8.) If and when God calls you to be a wife and mother, know that you will feel used by God in a way that you never thought possible. And it is amazing.

9.) You are a daughter of God, and no matter how strong you are, you cannot do it on your own. Go to Him.

10.) Anxiety and depression run in our family. (It’s the only running we do. Hah!) Being stoic and refusing to acknowledge that you need help (like I did for what seems like an eternity after your brother was born but was actually like 12 days) is not being strong. Being strong is taking care of your mental health, even when it’s scary and overwhelming. I can help you. Come to me.

11.) I can help you with almost anything. I still go to my mom and dad for things literally every day. I want you to feel like you can do that with me and Daddy too.

12.) Don’t worry about your body. Yes, be healthy. But I have been a size 2 and a size 22 and literally I felt better about myself at 22. Being skinny doesn’t turn you into the person you want to be. It doesn’t make people love you. It doesn’t do anything except change the number on your dress. So run around, eat good food, keep eating vegetables, and be healthy. But never obsess over your size. Because it. does. not. matter.

13.) Learn your manners. Teach your children their manners. Don’t get mad at me for forcing you to learn your manners. Always send thank you notes too. They’re awesome.

14.) There is literally nothing that cuddling with your mom, taking a nap, and an hour in Eucharistic Adoration can’t make better.

15.) This world is over in a minute. Being a strong woman usually doesn’t mean doing things that make you popular or your life easier. Your goal (and mine) is to get to heaven, where the strongest women ever, Our Lady and the Saints, will be waiting for you.

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The Best Laid (Lent) Plans- For You!

So last time I talked about what we’re doing as a family (specifically a homeschooling family) for Lent this year. Today I want to talk about what I’m doing as a real live actual adult person to make sure that when I get to Easter, it’s not just shoving the kids across the finish line. They can’t get anything from me if I don’t have anything to give them spiritually.

(They suck everything else dry. Might as well go with spirituality too.)

I’m pretty basic about my Lenten practices now as a mom. I stick to the three big things that the Church recommends- prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

I don’t want to spend any time writing about what I’m fasting from, because that’s not important and it bugs me when people are like “Well I’m giving up chocolate and alcohol…”* as though that was the important part. It’s not. The important part is that you fast from SOMETHING.

*It’s not chocolate or alcohol. I’d also have to fast from motherhood then and I’m pretty sure that’s not what God wants from me right now.

Fasting allows us to realize the earthly limits of our bodies and desires and turns us closer to God in a way that anything other than denial can’t. So it’s a pretty important part of anyone’s Lent, I think.


I try to ramp up my prayer life during Lent. I make an effort to go to Adoration more frequently, and daily Mass whenever I can. This year I’m continuing with my Bible/Catechism reading plan every day, and I’ve started reading the Ratzinger Jesus of Nazareth book that deals with Holy Week for my good-for-me reading. I’m also following Lent and Easter Wisdom from John Paul II because it’s super short and easy and a nice way to start the day.


I loved using the Magnificat Advent app, so I downloaded the Lenten companion as well. Like in Advent, I don’t follow everything in there, but I make it a point to read the reflections each day, as well as the evening prayer.

So much (all) of my prayer life is focused on morning before the day gets going and people need me for everything. I realized I didn’t have anything spiritual at night, except for the odd nights when my husband and I say a rosary together. So we’ve started doing that every night and I’m committed to the evening prayer from Magnificat.

Almsgiving is also a pretty personal thing I think, but something that we’ve done in the past is staying home from restaurants or allotting a portion of our budget that would normally be for something else for a charity. (In our case, I like to support local pro-life centers that help with postpartum care and adoption assistance.) Usually this practice inherently involves fasting as well, since you’re probably giving something up to have extra money to donate to charity.

I do think it’s important to talk about it with your kids and your close friends to get ideas about new ways to share your treasure, and it’s super nice to  have any opportunity to explain how blessed we are to my kids, who today told me they “COULD NOT LIVE” without tablets.

That made me want to drop them in the middle of the dessert and explain to them how the vast majority of the world’s population lives. It’s not all My Little Pony and Rescue Bots, guys.

 

Halfway

We’re halfway through our last week of the semester here at L’ecole Agony and Ecstasy, and as usual, I feel like I’ve learned more this year than my actual school-aged child.

(Part of that is probably because, try as I might, I cannot get excited about learning suffixes. Yes it’s a big deal I suppose. But seriously.)

If you’re, well, my mom, you probably remember that this summer I meticulously planned the year. And that was great. To a point. I absolutely love some things about the way I planned it, and I hate (and so have ignored) some of the other things.

(YAY HOMESCHOOLING!!! You get to stop doing what you hate doing!!!)

(Also statistically higher test scores and greater demonstrated intelligence.)

(WHEE!!!)

I love the way I planned out the things I need to do every week. That has been amazing. I know exactly where I should be for this point in the year, and I don’t have to worry about finishing the books, because I know I will. My lesson planning (which last year was a good chunk of the morning on the weekends) now takes me about 20 minutes on a Saturday.

I built in a good chunk of vacation days/weeks too. Again, an awesome benefit to planning. I know I have enough days/hours to satisfy the state should it ever become an issue, but we also get to take guilt-free breaks pretty frequently.

(Like the coming huge break we have for Christmas and New Years.)

(Which is awesome because it turns out we have a huge family wedding on New Year’s Eve, which I didn’t know about when I planned the year.)

(Because the bride and groom hadn’t met yet.)

(I’m really excited about this wedding guys.)

I love that I built in  a lot of seasonal stuff. I’ve been trying really hard to keep the liturgical seasons a part of our family life and so I scheduled certain things for Advent, Lent, Easter, etc. I bought all the books this summer and planned everything out so now I literally just have to do the readings and stuff I already planned, which is a huge departure from my attempt last year which involved me sitting on the couch the night before Ash Wednesday googling “What to do with a six-year-old for Lent???”

(Guess how well that worked.)

Things haven’t gone completely according to plan, of course. What does? Certainly nothing in my life. Just like last year, I figured out that I hate a few of the books I had picked out. I HATE our American history book. Like, for serious. It is so stupid, and at the same time heavy-handed. I just, ugh. Do not like. Because she’s so little, we’ve been able to get around it by my reading to her from the parts that aren’t horrible, and supplementing with other books and materials.

You might think the fact that I have an MA in history would prove useful here, but it’s remarkably unhelpful as I just cannot get her interested in Vatican Ostpolitik. I know, right? Maybe in second grade.

I hate a bunch of the stuff I thought I’d do for religion too. I had this book on the lives of the saints for kids but once I started reading it it’s really dumb (Jesuits, pssh), so I found another series that I really like. We aren’t as strict about doing a bunch of the stuff I thought we would, but she’s learning the Sacraments and the commandments, and we do a family rosary and read the Gospel for the coming Sunday every Friday. Overall, I like the organic nature of our religion class more than “let’s sit down and memorize this.” Last year we were more based on the Baltimore Catechism, which is wonderful. But this year, as she prepares for her first Communion and first Reconciliation next year, I want our faith to be a part of her every day life in a way that she recognizes.

My favorite subject, Latin, is going really well, but not in the way that I necessarily thought it was going to go. Once again, I failed to realize that MY KID IS SIX. So obviously we aren’t sitting down and declining nouns. But she’s learning vocab words really well and even uses them around the house which I think is adorable. We’re learning prayers in Latin (and I do mean we, because I grew up int he ’90s and despite the fact that my mother is the most conservative person I know, nobody taught me anything except the sign of the cross in Latin. And then I took it in college at a Lutheran school, so sol there too.) So that’s been really cool.

I haven’t had a baby-related breakdown yet this year (probably because no one I know has one.) (Still!) (Counting it as a win!) It’s definitely a lot more difficult than last year, since she already pretty much knew everything from K5 and this year I have to actually teach her stuff? Like a real kid? What?

But I am so thankful for this opportunity to raise our family this way, despite the work it sometimes creates. I absolutely could not do it without Buzz’s support, or my family’s help. But since I am lucky enough to have those things, this is an unbelievable blessing for us.

Here’s hoping 2017 is as wonderful!

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Advent for Kids (and Yourself)

Guys, I think Advent is my favorite liturgical season. I love the solemn nature of it- we’re not celebrating, not yet. But it’s not the same kind of solemn as Lent, which is mostly just a bummer.

(I’M KIDDING. Lent is lovely as well. Just more…intense.)

I also love that there are so many things that we can do as a family to mark the season. Again, Lent is so intense. Other than the stations of the Cross, it’s hard to come up with cute craft ideas for hey-let-me-explain-all-of-salvation-history-to-you. I know they’re out there, I do. But it’s just harder to ram home without being depressing..

And let’s be honest, I’m not doing any crafts anyway. I hate crafts. HATE THEM. Creativity and making a mess. Literally my two least favorite things.

ANYWAY. Homeschooling, we obviously have a lot of freedom to mark Advent and prepare for the Birth of the Lord. I have a six year old and a three year old, and frankly, the three year old is just phoning it in. He’s present for everything that we do, and we sing Advent songs with him and stuff like that. But he doesn’t really get it.

(Things he also doesn’t get: going to the bathroom IN THE BATHROOM. Fingers crossed by next Advent.)

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But Squeaks is almost seven, and she totally gets it this year. We have an Advent wreath (with flameless candles, natch) and so she “lights” it and we all read a devotion every night that we have dinner together. (Which okay hasn’t been much this week but hopefully that will get better.) We’re using the Catholic Family Advent Prayers and Activities book by Susan Hines-Brigger. I’m really loving it so far. It has a prayer, scripture passage, and discussion for every day of advent.

Also lots of craft ideas. (Blech.)

We also have an Advent book we got through Seton, the company we use for homeschooling curriculum. It’s int he Living and Celebrating our Catholic Traditions series, and it’s lovely too. There s a great story for each week that we use for school, and again, tons of crafts.

The one I’m actually going to do with her is a paper chain that leads to an empty manger, and then we glue Jesus in on Christmas morning. That sounds cute. (And easy.)  Everything in that book is reproducible too, so you can use it for years with different kids or even pass it on to family.

We do have an Elf on the Shelf, which I know is anathema to many Catholic families. But for us, it’s totally fine. I don’t see any reason to abstain from the non-heretical parts of secular life, and we have been able to use the Elf (Cooper) to talk to us about how it’s not important that we’re good for Santa, but rather that we need to make ourselves ready for Jesus to come at Christmas and the end of the world by being good children.

He hangs out at the Nativity a lot.

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The biggest, and also smallest, thing we’ve started doing is keeping Squeaks up with us to say a rosary at night. Buzz and I would say rosaries separately during the weekdays, but together on the weekend. And that was such a nice thing for us that we decided to include Squeaks for Advent. She LOVES it. She (against all odds) is able to sit calmly and quietly and say the prayers with us. She’s also learning a lot of the mysteries, which she is very proud of and makes my heart as a mother burst literally every night. It’s also a great way to teach her prayers that we’ve forgotten to pass on, like the St. Michael the Archangel prayer, and the Memorare.

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But it’s not all about the kids, right? I mean, I’m a firm believer in the concept that if your own spiritual life is empty, you can give nothing to your children. And also that the easiest way to pass on the faith to your children is to let them see you doing it. And we all know I am ALL ABOUT THE EASE OF THINGS. So I’ve decided to make sure that I made this Advent count for myself, too.

I’ve begun some more physical devotions- veiling, making sure I go to confession regularly, attending Eucharistic Adoration, etc. Those have been a wonderful way to make my actual time reflect my sense of waiting and hope and the desire to make myself ready for God, whenever He comes again.

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I also downloaded the Magnificat Advent 2016 app. It’s available on all platforms for $1.99, or $2.99 for the ebook format if you want it on kindle. This  is amazing, guys. It has a really user-friendly interface, prayers for morning, evening, and night, the Mass for the day, and additional prayers, songs, and rubrics (like for a penance service, blessing of the Advent wreath, etc.)  I am really, really enjoying it. HIGHLY recommend, and I am not a normal Magnificat girl. I can’t get into it. But this is amazing for me.

(And if you do the app it sends you touch reminders. SCORE.)

Finally, I’m switching up my “good-for-me” reading that I do every  morning. I wrote about this a few weeks ago, but basically I take about half an hour before the kids get up to read a selection from the Bible, the Catechism, and a book about parenting or faith or whatever (anything except murders- I’ve been really into thrillers lately, guys.) I abandoned my Catholic Guide to Depression (ironically, AMAZING!) and am slogging my way through Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. It’s a slim book, but if you’ve ever read anything Ratzinger has written, um, don’t expect a quick read. I’m absolutely loving being able to a.) focus on exegesis again, something I haven’t done since grad school, and b.) turning little parts of my day towards the anticipation of the Lord.

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So, what do you do for advent? I’d love more (non-craft) suggestions!