Living Intentionally Well

Living Intentionally Well

I’ve spent the last two weeks thinking some deep thoughts. Thoughts about expectations I’ve placed on myself and making adjustments. You see, about three week ago, I found myself stretched to the max. We were still trying to find our rhythm with homeschooling, my husband’s work schedule shifted (again), my two oldest children started [separate] sports, and apparently there is a lot to growing a blog from the ground up. My brain was fried. I felt like I was juggling 15,000 balls in the air. It was all too much. I had to take a beat and remind myself on what was important. Now granted, when looking at that list, these things are ALL important. But, I needed to take some time to plan, focus, and reevaluate where I was spending my mental energy. You see, my little corner of the internet here is called Intentionally Well because I believe it is of the upmost importance that we live our days on purpose with a purpose. Our days are numbered. They are limited. I want to spend mine well.

On this quest of intentionality, I’ve learned something. You have to be intentional about being intentional. It seems redundant, doesn’t it? I know, I know, but go with me here. Our lives are not static. Things change (hello 2020!). Schedules, routines, seasons, etc., it’s always shifting. I find that my brain can handle some minor shifting and take it in stride. But after a while, I feel like I’m swimming in a deep sea while just trying to stay afloat. And that, sweet friend, is not a place that I like to be. Do you? Therefore, it makes sense that we need to be consistently evaluating our circumstances to know where we need to put our time and energy. Notice I said constantly, not continually. When you do this well, it won’t need need to be something that you have to dwell on daily. You’ll already know what’s important and where you need to spend your time. You’ll be able to focus on what really matters, and let everything else fade to the background.

So, how exactly do we do this? I like to take myself on a little date with my planner and calendar at the end of each month. I go to lunch or a coffee shop alone and spend time taking inventory of what is happening in my family and what we have coming up. I consider how things are going and what needs tweaking. If my schedule doesn’t have room for my little date, then I’ll spend some time planning after the kids are in bed. But, friend, there is something so relaxing about getting out of your every day environment. It is SO much easier to focus when that pile of laundry isn’t staring at you in your peripheral vision. I find that monthly planning is what works best for me, but you might find weekly or quarterly is better for you. The frequency isn’t as important as the consistency, which then develops into a habit. Now, I am not talking about a daily to do list or things like my homeschooling lesson plans. I am talking about planning things like family time, how I am going to grow in my relationship with the Lord, what needs focus in my marriage, what needs changing so I am living my life from a place of rest. Big things. Important things that if we aren’t intentional about will slowly disintegrate if left unattended.

I have been doing intentional planning like this for about two years. I know it works and is beneficial. But I’ll be honest, it’s been harder this year. 2020….there really aren’t enough or adequate words to brush the surface of what this year has been like for all of us. Putting it lightly, it’s been hard. Some months, I have been on it. Like planning and intentionality to the tee. Then other months, like last month, I’ve rushed it. I always pay for it. But that’s ok. Remember, it’s the consistency that matters. We don’t have to do life perfectly to do life well. So, I’m pausing and evaluating what and where to spend my time. And you can to!

Do you plan out the big things in life? How do you live intentionally in the season you’re in? Let me know in the comments below.

Phonics: Teaching My Kids to Read

Phonics: Teaching My Kids to Read

Abeka. It’s one of the most widely known curricula. It’s used extensively in the homeschool community as well as traditional schools. When we decided to homeschool, I knew Abeka was going to be one of our resources. Teaching our kids to read can be one of the most overwhelming this about homeschooling. It was to me at least. This was heightened by the fact that one of my children was struggling with their phonics, but I was told over and over again how great Abeka would be for that.

And it’s true. Abeka has a strong phonics based Language Arts approach. So, I bought some of the workbooks and flash cards. I chose not to buy the complete Language Arts bundle, because I didn’t think we needed it all and it overwhelmed me. I definitely wouldn’t put them in the “budget friendly” category, but every product is bright, colorful, and has excellent quality. Because Abeka has such a traditional approach, I knew I didn’t want to use it for every subject all the things. We are in the eclectic lane of homeschooling, but I do try to limit the amount of worksheets my kids have to do.

First the pros. My kids are learning. My struggling reader has learned confidence in herself. She’s gained patience to sound out words, and she has already progressed to the next reading level. I am so thrilled with her progress, especially since we had to start from the beginning (she was previously being taught a whole language approach in public school). Also, my new reader is actively and steadily learning her phonics. She has just started reading level A books, which is so fun. And, her favorite thing in our homeschool is her letter sound book.

Ok, now the cons. Despite all the progress my kids have made, I just don’t love it. It’s repetitive and boring, especially for my oldest. She basically has to complete the same worksheet every day, just with new information switched out. There is a lot of testing. Like weekly. We don’t even do the tests, because I already know how my kids are preforming. Also, it’s important to know that Abeka is basically a grade level ahead of public school. Because my oldest came right out of public school, she is having to do first grade work in Abeka, even though she is in second grade. She doesn’t really have an issue with this because I explained to her why, but I know things like that can be upsetting for some children. Abeka also moves through material very quickly. Our math curriculum is very traditional as well, and two traditionally taught subjects seems to be too many worksheets for our family.

Right now, my plan is for us to complete the Abeka materials I’ve already purchased. However, I will to switch to another phonics based Language Arts program once we are finished with it. All in all, I don’t regret reaching for and trying out Abeka for our Language Arts. It’s helped my kids learn and progress. It was so nice having an “open and go” option when we were first making the switch to homeschooling from public school. But, it’s not something that will work for my kids long term, and I am happy there are so many other options out there.

Tell me, that are you using for Language Arts this year? Have you ever started a curriculum, then decided it wasn’t the best fit? Tell me about it in the comments below.

Helpful Links:

Our Favorite Early Readers: https://amzn.to/3aSXntY

Read About Our Math Curriculum here: https://intentionallywell.org/2020/08/19/math-love-it-or-hate-it/

Having a World View

Having a World View

When we first decided to homeschool back in January of 2020, I did what any mom would do. I joined as many local homeschool Facebook groups as I could, so that I could learn all the things from other moms who were actually doing the things. It was in one of these groups where I first heard about the curriculum I want to talk to you about today. It’s called Torchlight, and it is our social studies and geography curriculum. Guys, I love this thing so much. It’s my favorite thing we do, and I am learning just as much as the kids are some weeks. What’s that? You’ve never heard of Torchlight? I’m not surprised. It seems to be a newer curriculum, that is also secular. Let me tell you about it.

Torchlight is in the Charlotte Mason lane. You learn through books. The author (a homeschooling mom!) grew up reading with a flashlight (torchlight) under the covers every night after she was supposed to be asleep. Her heart is for kids to love books. This is what first peeked my interest. I want my kids to love reading. Up until earlier this year, books have kind of been take it or leave it for them. That broke my heart, because I love reading, and I want my kids to also love reading. The next thing that got me really excited about this curriculum was that it covered everything except math and language arts. That meant I could use the same level for both of my children, even though they are two grades apart. Torchlight covers literature, science, geography, cultural studies, and art. We are nine weeks into using the curriculum and have decided to not use the science aspect, but that is only because my kids had some specific unit studies they wanted to do (more on that later).

Let’s talk about the geography and cultural studies aspect of this curriculum, because that is what sealed the deal for me. When looking at other curricula, I honestly found a lot of them to be very ethnocentric and white washed. I don’t mean that to sound harsh, but it is just a fact. And let me be clear, I do not judge anyone for choosing a different program for their kids. Seriously. We all have our own priorities, and different things are important to different people. This is something that is important to our family. It is important to us that our kids realize that we live in a great big world with billions of people who all live and believe differently. For example, when we learned about the formation of Central Park in New York, we also learned about Seneca Village. Have you ever heard of it? I definitely hadn’t. When we learned about Nepal and Bangladesh, we read a story about a little girl who worked and saved all her money to buy an oil lamp for her home, because her family didn’t have electricity.

I chose to do Level K with my kindergartener and second grader. Torchlight tends to run older in its themes and books, so this is a really great fit. I can scale things up and down as needed for each child very easily. For Level K, we learn about a different country or small group of countries each week. Last week, we learned about Congo (DRC), Zimbabwe, and Zambia. We read various books about the country and its people. We also do an art project and read a piece of literature, usually an early chapter book. It has been so.much.fun.! Next year we will start learning ancient history with Level 1. I really like the idea of teaching to have a world view, then diving into the actual history of the world.

The fact that Torchlight is a secular curriculum is a nonissue for us. Before homeschooling, our kids were enrolled in public school where they were receiving a secular education. We are also doing our own Bible routine, which you can read about here: https://intentionallywell.org/2020/08/12/our-bible-curriculum/

If you are interested in Torchlight, you can check it out here: https://torchlightcurriculum.com/torchlight/

Here in the inflatable globe (aka space saving and cost effective globe) we are using: https://amzn.to/2DYHZjF

**Some links are affiliates which helps to support my little passion blog here at Intentionally Well. Thank you for your support**

Our Bible Curriculum

Our Bible Curriculum

I use the word curriculum loosely here. The word routine might be more appropriate. However you phrase it, I want to share what we are doing for our Bible lessons in our homeschool this year. Our faith is part of our daily life. We are a Christian family, and my husband is actually in vocational ministry. We talk about God and the Good News in our daily life often. With that said, I have chosen to do some intentional instruction on the Bible this year. My school aged kids are still young, being only in second grade and kindergarten, so I really wanted to take that into consideration when deciding what our goals would be. I decided that rather than focus on scripture memorization, I wanted my kids to learn the narrative of the Bible. I wanted them to learn and have a better understanding of the people and stories of the Bible, and how they reveal God’s love for us.

I am using a children’s Bible as our main source to accomplish this. About 3 mornings a week, we read a selection out of The Big Picture Storybook Bible (linked here: https://amzn.to/31wJgpK ). Guys, I love this children’s bible so much. Each story is so beautifully and clearly written on a child’s level without sounding babyish. The corresponding chapter and verses are always given if you want to go even deep with your learner. At the end of each story, there is a section called Christ Connection, and this is where the story (whether taken from the Old or New Testament) is brought back to Jesus and the gospel. Lastly, the passage ends with a comprehension question for the learner. This bible isn’t particularly meant for schooling, but it so beautifully serves that purpose for our family.

This set up has worked really nicely with my girls. The “lessons” are short and engaging but also very meaningful. We are focusing on the New Testament for this fall semester. We are going to learn all about the life and work of Jesus, which will culminate with celebrating His birthday at Christmas.

Also, can I just say how much I miss in person church?! Man….anyone else? Okay, thanks. I just needed to put that somewhere.

**Links are affiliates which helps to support my little passion blog here at Intentionally Well. Thank you for your support**

We’re a Homeschool Family Now

We’re a Homeschool Family Now

Yep, we have made a change. Like every other family in America, school is going to look different for us this year. However, our switch to homeschooling was not a reaction to the Coronavirus. Homeschooling has been on and off our hearts since forever. When we lived in the south, I had many friends who homeschooled (how many times do you think I will type this world out in this post? haha!). I was so intrigued by it. But my oldest is an extrovert, and I felt like our personalities clashed often when I would try to teach her things or switch to “school mode” at home. So, I doubted myself. I doubted my ability, even though I taught preschool before kids.

Fast forward a couple of years, and our kids were thriving in their preschools. They were learning, having fun, and I was enjoying those few hours of separation (having littles is tough, guys). Every time homeschooling started to creep back into my mind, I would push it out with all these positives. Then came Kindergarten for my oldest. I was dreading it. It was SUCH a long day, and i knew that a lot of that time was filler. She wouldn’t get home until about 4:00 and would be utterly exhausted. And that’s exactly what happened. I really felt like the long school day was stealing our family time. Because my husband works in ministry, our weekends are often busy. Homeschooling, again, started to weigh on me, but I put a pin in it.

Then came first grade. We loved her teacher, but the school wasn’t meeting some specific needs my child had. When I would bring this up (over and over again), I was met with a lot of explanations but also a lot of resistance. My middle was in pre-k, and the thought of her having to deal with the long day of public school kindergarten made my brain hurt. And so in January of 2020, we once and for all decided that public school was not working for our family. We knew then that we would be homeschooling the following year. We told the kids our decision (they were so excited!), and I started dabbling in researching homeschool methods and curriculums (curricula?).

And then the world as we knew it came crashing down. When schools closed in March of 2020, my oldest was sent assignments to do at home, and she would upload her work for her teacher to see. It was here that I got a really good sense of how she was being taught, and I was like no wonder! Neither of us had much fun with this e-learning. It was a chore. I had already ordered some homeschool materials, so we withdrew our oldest 2 kids from their perspective schools and started our homeschool journey right then and there.

It was so great! Even with having to take breaks as I recovered from Covid, the kids really learned a lot. Best of all, we saw them grow closer as siblings and have FUN with school. We did school until the end of May and took a break in June to enjoy the summer. It was really nice to have those weeks to slowly ease into what homeschool would look like for our family.

The week after the Forth of July, we officially started our new homeschool year. I have a second grader, a Kindergartener, and a toddler (who will still attend preschool two mornings a week). We are about three weeks in, and so far so good….I think. Just kidding! It’s good. We are learning new rhythms and routines. Learning to give and receive grace. Learning when to push through and when to take it slow. Learning how to balance all the things and not feel stressed or overwhelmed. I’ve loved all of it. I love seeing my kids learn new things and know that I was a part of that.

School is going to be different for everyone this year. Some families are homeschooling, some are choosing virtual school, some are choosing in person school (as much as the districts will allow). There are no easy or clear answers for any of us. I am here for you. I support you. What works for our family might not work for your family, and that’s ok! Share with me what you and your family will be doing this fall in the comments.

Nurturing Sibling Relationships

Nurturing Sibling Relationships

I want to preface this post with love. I know that we as mothers are doing the very best we can. Mothering and parenthood is legit hard. It’s a high and holy calling on us. My heart is to share a few things that have helped our family. And my hope is that maybe something shared can bring a little more peace to your home where there might be chaos. My heart is not boastful. I do not get it right every time, and I definitely do not know all the things. We struggle and have hard days and weeks just like every one. Also, my children are young. I know that things will change as they get older, and we will have to mold and adjust our strategies as our children grow. My husband and I are continually having conversations about what each of our children need and how we can best meet those needs. I am not an expert, and I believe a lot of sibling dynamics come from individual personalities. However, there have been a few things that we have purposely implemented in our family culture to nurture the relationships among our children.

First and most importantly, we view siblings as a gift in our family. My husband and I don’t take for granted the value of this special bond among our 3 kids. I grew up as an only child, and my husband has one younger brother. We are not experts by our own account, but we have a deep desire for our kids to have a special, close, and unbreakable bond. For much of my childhood, I longed for that “best” friend who would be present in my life for years and years. That deep connection when you can read each other’s thoughts without saying a word. Childhood friendships can graze the surface of this, but those relationships tend to be fluid and temporary. They depend on where you live, what school you go to, etc, and those things can change often for kids. But siblings are with you forever. They’re stuck with you, ha! So, I think for us, that is the biggest motivator for for how our kids view each other. They are a gift. It all starts with your heart and how you as the parent view sibling relationships.

Secondly, I have basically been a helicopter parent when it comes to conflict resolution among our children. In the toddler years, that actually meant me having them repeat what I say when resolving a conflict. I intentionally taught them the words and tone of voice to use. I took the time to explain to one child why the other child was feeling a certain way. If one child did something hurtful, I would tell them to look at their sibling, and I would say calmly, “Look at their face. They are sad. It made them sad when you did xyz. You need to say sorry and make it right.” I start this around age two. I believe it helps them to develop an awareness and empathy for others. I have only just recently started letting my 5 and 7 year old work out conflict on their own. And it has, honestly, been a joy to hear them both state their opinions on a situation and come to their own compromises. It really makes all that hard work I did when they were younger worth it. I also really take the time to explain to the older kids that those younger than them are still learning. That we have to be patient and teach them. This is especially poignant, as I call my now 2 year old the toddleriest toddler I ever had. He is in his learning stage, and my older two often have to give him grace when they don’t initially feel like it. That is also a good life lesson.

Thirdly, to the best of our ability, we parent the hearts of our children and not just their behavior. So if one child is going through a phase where they’re repeatedly getting frustrated and yelling at another child, we not only address the behavior but also get to the reason as to why said child is frustrated and yelling. We actually dealt with this recently. The frustrated child was yelling because they felt like their sibling wasn’t listening. After talking about appropriate ways to express frustration (yelling at people not being one of them), we followed through and talked to the sibling about the importance of active listening and how it hurts people’s feelings when they don’t feel heard. This is only the most recent example. It takes a lot more work on the front end. It would be so much less effort for me to just separate the two kids and have a blanket “no yelling” statement and then move on. But if we had only responded to the behavior of the first child, we would have missed a teaching moment for the second child.

Lastly, we do our best to instill a team spirit into our family culture. I really credit my husband with this one. He loves being part of a team. So we don’t really allow or set the stage for our kids to compete against each other. We tell our kids to use team work to complete a task, whether it’s chores or just playing a game. When calling my kids collectively, I will say “team Sewell, it’s time to go (or what ever).” This, I hope, just gives them the little reminder that we are all on the same team. Always. We don’t pit them against each other – ever. Even when playing games.

I think the big take away is we have decided that healthy sibling relationships are a priority in our family. We put a lot of our parenting energy into this. We tell our kids that they are “forever best friends,” and we mean that with our whole heart.

I would love LOVE to hear how you nurture sibling relationships with you kids. Share what has worked in your family, so we can learn from each other.