DIY with kids: Collage beetles!

Friday, April 24, 2020


Today, we're joining up with KidLab's "Beetle Week" to share a DIY project that's perfect for kids of all ages as we head into summer. We're creating beetles in the whimsical collage style of Eric Carle. This is a project that could stretch over a few days as you wait for paint and glue to dry, but only requires short bursts of concentration for younger children. And it yields SUCH fun results! We're basing our designs on Eric Carle's book, The Very Clumsy Click Beetle

Liam's first grade year & A Gentle Feast review.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

This past year of homeschool has been *quite* the adventure! Moving across the country (and spending over a month in the process) threw us a curveball, but I'm more grateful than ever to be homeschooling. Instead of it feeling like a major disruption, we were able to plod along and keep making progress as we homeschooled on the road and in our new Texas home. What a gift! 

I wanted to write an update to review our curriculum choices from last year before posting about what we'll be doing for next year. 

You can find all our 1st grade curriculum choices here.

We have truly enjoyed A Gentle Feast. Julie Ross has done a phenomenal job boiling down the best parts of Charlotte Mason's philosophy into a curriculum and presenting it in an easy-to-digest format. We have especially loved the history book choices, the hymns, and the read-alouds. If you're brand new to Charlotte Mason-style learning, this is a perfect first step. A Gentle Feast guides you along with clarity and intention.

If there have been any cons for us, it's been a few of the book choices. Some are simply so "classic" (literally reprints from the 1800s) that they've been hard for us to connect with. For example, The Burgess Animal Book and The Little Flower Book - used for natural history - have been two of them. I definitely see the reason for her choices as they are consistent with Charlotte Mason ideals. But when I gave Liam the option of putting them down and using something else for natural history, he was more than eager to put them aside. If you've followed Ambleside Online, I'm sure you have encountered this style of book as the lists are very similar. I'm just finding that while we can stretch our tastes in some areas to include classic selections, Liam and Lanie do prefer a few things to be more up to date, colorful, and engaging than these classic texts.

One thing I really loved by A Gentle Feast was this book: Cycle 1 Language Arts. It includes copywork, dictation, grammar, spelling, free drawing - basically all aspects of what you would consider language arts - and was the perfect level for our first grader. I recommend it, even if you aren't using the entire curriculum.

If you're on the fence about using A Gentle Feast, my best recommendation is to choose which cycle you're interested in and download the booklist. It's $5 well spent to get a feel for which books you'll be using and if you think they'll be a good fit for your family.

Perhaps you're similar, but the longer we homeschool, the more I find it's hard to put Liam firmly in "a grade" that makes sense for him. He is right at grade level in some areas and above grade level in others, so I want to custom fit his education for how he will learn best. Overall, I think I'm needing a little more leeway to make my own choices for next year instead of an "open and go" curriculum, even though I did love many aspects of A Gentle Feast.

Next year (which will begin as soon as June if we're still in quarantine!), Liam will be in 2nd grade and Lanie will be in Kindergarten. Charlotte Mason does not encourage formal schooling for Kindergarten age, but Lanie is chomping at the bit to get started and is so eager to read, so we will do a little with her. I'm also blending some Classical education elements as I'm finding that's another philosophy I lean toward. More on that later. :)

Reading aloud has quickly become our favorite part of homeschool - and our favorite part of most days. Here are a few favorite books we've read aloud this year (among dozens!):
Poppy by Avi
The Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo (loved by the whole family!)
The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

Currently, Liam's favorite series to read on his own are:
Imagination Station by Adventures in Odyssey
The Secret of the Hidden Scrolls by M. J. Thomas
Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne (which he is now reading to Lanie during rest time each day)

I hope that helps! Please let me know if you have specific questions in the comments section, or by emailing me at whitney@elmstreetlife. I'm more than happy to help if I can! I'll be sharing our curriculum choices for next year in the coming days.

A story of reading.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Would you believe it if I told you that toddler Liam wanted very little to do with books? (Pictures can be deceiving. ;))

I was a new mom, and I'd ordered all the board books with the best reviews on Amazon. But as soon as I'd sit down to read with Liam, he'd be way more interested in the nearest electrical outlet or scrounging through the diaper bag for a snack. He loved throwing books, tearing out the pages of my Bible, running away from me squealing, or just about anything except sitting down to read. It felt like a losing battle. But for some reason, I stubbornly kept reading.

I read Giraffes Can't Dance until every word was memorized. Even today, the words just dance on my lips and tumble out in rhythm.

Little Blue Truck
Big Red Barn
The Bear Snores On

Sometimes I read all alone in his room after he'd flashed a mischievous smile and run away, hoping someday he would understand how truly delightful reading could be and would want to stay.

In my shortsighted anxiety as a new mom, I wondered if he'd ever want to read with me... if he'd ever sit still long enough to finish a board book, let alone something longer. I waited patiently for the day that he would and just kept reading, reading, reading.

You probably know that Liam's boycott of books didn't last. He learned to read just before kindergarten and hasn't looked back.

These days, I set him loose in a library (with his very own library card, of course) and he's a bloodhound, sniffing out a trail to his favorite series. He laps up chapter books like water, drinking them in two a day. He sits spellbound for hours, traversing great distances and decades with his favorite characters-turned-friends. Liam's goal this year is to finish 200 chapter books and I think he'll be there by summer.

Reading has strengthened our family bonds more than I imagined it could. The two of us keep a weekly book date where we sip decaf lattes and discuss his latest reads. It's honey to both of our hearts, we kindred story-lovers.

Sometimes, I catch a glimpse of the dimpled toddler face that's since thinned out and can hardly believe it's the same kid. The one who ran away when I pulled out a book just a handful of years ago.

So mama, if you're there right now, don't give up. Don't you dare shelve those great stories in defeat. Keep reading, even if your toddler wants nothing to do with it. Read aloud. Read often. Keep making trips to the library and filling up your basket. Be patient for the day things change, because when it arrives, it will be magical.

... that I shall have no regrets.

Monday, January 20, 2020

For months I've had so much to say, so much to work through in writing, and so little physical and mental capacity with which to do it. Our lives have been flipped upside down by a cross country move during an already challenging season with four little ones. Beckham is undoubtedly our most unpredictable sleeper (though our easiest baby otherwise!) and waking to his cries at all hours of the night has required me to strip away anything that is not absolutely necessary. 

But even so, it's easy to look around and wonder if I'm doing enough. 

Our culture, as presented on social media, screams that women can have it all. We can be devoted and ever-present mothers, we can run our own thriving businesses, we can show up on Instagram in full hair and makeup and share deep inspirational thoughts. It's exhausting and, frankly, it's a lie. While the culture screams that I should be doing more and more and also taking time for me instead of sacrificially pouring it out for others, the Bible says quite the opposite. It's in the serving, in the lowest places, that we meet Christ most intimately. Each of us is called to worship God and love our neighbor in whatever context we find ourselves. In this season as a mom of little people, these children are my closest neighbors. Bending low to serve them is a constant practice in humility, self-sacrifice, patience. But it's also a calling. Not a constant interruption, but exactly where God has me.

Beckham's birth story.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

When you're the fourth child, you do get your birth story written out. It just comes nearly 9 months after the fact. ;) Nonetheless, we are so grateful Beckham Wells is here and is part of our family. He is a gentle, peaceful, joyful little boy whose near-constant smile lights up a room. I have a feeling he may be a little extrovert: he loves when you smile and talk to him, possibly more than any of our other babies.

On the morning of April 18, I woke up feeling crummy and crampy. I'd been experiencing prodromal labor for the past several nights, but this felt different. About halfway through the day, I was struggling to keep up with the kids and asked Shawn if there was any way he could work from home in the afternoon to give some relief. It wasn't a request I'd made during this pregnancy, so I probably should have realized that something had changed.

By the time he got home, cramping had progressed to contractions. I decided to take a quick walk down our street to see if they would ramp up or ease off. Just one block away, the contractions intensified and I felt in my gut that "this is it." We grabbed our hospital bag, asked our neighbor across the street to watch the kids until Shawn's mom could arrive, and jetted out the door.

On our way to the hospital, I started having doubts. What if this was just more prodromal labor and they'd send me home. I had just hit 38 weeks, so I knew that probably wouldn't happen. But I texted my favorite doctor anyway. Graciously, he offered to do a labor check in the office, so we headed there instead. I was 3-4 centimeters dilated and the contractions were every 4 minutes, so he strongly advised we head to the hospital. This time around, I needed 4 hours' worth of antibiotics before the baby was born due to group B strep. Because my last two labors weren't even 4 hours long from start to finish, we were worried that I wouldn't have time for any antibiotics. It wouldn't be dangerous for me, but could pose a threat to the baby, which made us nervous.

So we headed to the hospital, still timing contractions at 4 minutes apart. We were admitted straight into a labor and delivery room, got my IV antibiotics started, and walked around the unit for a bit. As soon as the antibiotics finished 4 hours later, my contractions had slowed to a stop. I felt a bit worried that I'd be pressured into a string of interventions (starting with Pitocin) and didn't want to go down that road. But also, we were so ready to meet our baby. Thankfully, our doctor didn't seem to be worried or rushed in the least.


So by about 11pm that night, it was decided that the doctor would break my water to get contractions going again and have this baby. This was already turning out so vastly different than my lightning speed labors in the past, but we felt peaceful, knowing prayers were being answered that I would have time for the antibiotics to keep the baby safe. Around 11pm, the epidural was administered and my bag of waters was broken. Little did we know, I wouldn't start contracting again for nearly three hours. I also had no clue (thankfully!) that the epidural wouldn't kick in at all where it needed to work.

Around 2am, contractions finally started again. I was still 4cm dilated, but the contractions were intense and frequent. By 2:15am, the nurse checked me again and I was 6cm dilated and 100% effaced. Progress! The contractions began to be painful for the first time, and I realized I was feeling everything on my right side. I let the nurse know and she had me turn onto my right side to let gravity pull the medicine toward that side. But it wasn't working. At all. She tested me with ice in various places and it felt just as cold as if she'd put it on my arm. On the outside of my left hip, I felt numbness - but I could feel everything else. The anesthesiologist returned to readjust the epidural -- and possibly re-do it completely -- but by this time, the contractions had ramped up to every 1-2 minutes and I didn't think I could endure the procedure to replace the epidural. I knew that the end was near and just wanted to make it there.

During all of this, Shawn was resting on the other side of the room and I was facing away from him, still lying on my right side and holding out hope that the epidural would eventually move by gravity. By God's grace, I was mentally focused in a way I'd never experienced. With Lanie's natural birth -- which occurred in triage just half an hour after arriving at the hospital -- I felt completely out of control. I was out of control, screaming and writhing in pain with each contraction until she burst out in just a few pushes. This time, I was able to accept the pain, visualizing that Beckham and I were working together to move him down and out into the world. The thought occurred like a wisp, "I can't do this anymore" as the pain intensified and I moved into the transition phase. Then I recalled that the fact that I was even thinking this must mean the end is near. During this time, as Shawn rested, I was so focused that I hardly moved. With my left leg now completely numb, I didn't have much of a choice. I was resolved to stay under control. I whispered prayers in the dark. "Lord, be near," was about all I could muster. Shawn thought I was sleeping.

By around 2:45am, contractions were 1 minute apart and as our experienced nurse, Kim, watched the change in my breathing, she called for the delivery cart. I heard her whisper to another nurse, "I don't trust her. This is going to be quick." Just a couple minutes later, I felt the pressure of Beckham's head and couldn't help but push, so I told her I was ready. She paged the doctor and said, "I need you right now." The nursery team and doctor rushed in, lights flipped on, I was moved into pushing position and told I could push with the next contraction. I was so intensely focused on what I had to do next that everyone's conversation in the room was a fog, like I was underwater and hearing garbled noises from above the surface. The doctor touched me with a cold metal instrument and asked if I could feel it. I could feel every bit, but I said, "No," to which he replied, "Well that's important." I think I just didn't want to admit - even to myself - that I was feeling it all.

Within a couple pushes, Beckham's head and shoulders were out and I gave one more small push to birth the rest of his body. He gave a good strong cry, was placed immediately on my chest, and I've never felt such relief in my life. "Hi, Beckham," said the doctor. The first words he heard.

The fog I'd been in cleared and I heard the conversation buzzing in the room.

He's here.
He's perfect.
He has the longest fingers and toes!
He looks just like our other babies.
Sweet, beautiful Beckham.




We spent the next two hours in the dimly lit labor and delivery room, just soaking him up. He nursed immediately for over an hour. The nursery nurse came in to assess him head-to-toe and found a tongue tie (familiar to us as Liam and Lanie also had them) but everything else checked out perfectly. We were then transferred to our postpartum room around 5am. Exhausted, overjoyed, experiencing such peace.



I had struggled deeply with anxiety throughout my pregnancy about just how labor and delivery would go. God answered every single feeble prayer. Mostly, he kept me in perfect peace, even when things didn't go as planned. Had I known the epidural wasn't going to work, I wouldn't have been calm entering labor. But by God's grace and with his strength, even though in immense pain, I felt no fear. The nurse God appointed was direct, honest, caring. Exactly who I needed to reassure me that everything was going beautifully, despite how it felt. The doctor remained calm, encouraging, personable. Shawn was a rock, knowing me well enough to know when to talk or turn on music and when to just be silent. He had reminded me in days before this is the last time you'll do this, which was a comfort.



We're nearly 9 months in now, and we can easily say Beckham was our easiest newborn. His big brothers and sister adore him, still leaping out of bed each day so they can hold him first thing in the morning. I don't know that we pictured ourselves as a family of 6, but we couldn't be more grateful that that's what God had planned for us. It's impossible now to picture our family without Beck.

Grace upon grace upon grace. Thank you, Jesus!
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