In Brief : The Underwater Welder

Sometimes, you log in to Amazon for the one moment a graphic novel on your wish list has dropped 75% in price. And in that moment, you buy The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire. Though Lemire dwells often in the superhero realm, Welder is the story of an ordinary man facing his past in order to face his future. It is an exploration of pressure crystallized on the black and white page.

The Artwork

The Underwater Welder is a story in ink mixed with grayscale watercolor. Damon Lindelof compares the story to an episode of the Twilight Zone in his introduction. The gray palette certainly helps, and enables some of the artistic effects, many of which are designed to nearly freeze a moment in time and allow the reader to think:

There are instances in the book where Lemire breaks a still shot into six panels. As a reader, I loved this effect as it forced me to survey the scene with particular interest. Creative application of such simple concepts add depth to a moment.

There are recurring liquid moments – perhaps a necessity in an underwater novel. Among these, there are plip panels which feature a drop falling into a puddle. They are distributed throughout, but they unify the storytelling voice and highlight moments within the broader context.

What often moves a story from quaint to profound, and what is perhaps my favorite overall feature of the art, is the author’s apparent trust in the moment he created. Beautiful visual stories let the human intellect do a little bit of the work. Storytellers who leave nothing to the imagination often steal from their own work because they remove their readers/viewers from the process. Lemire lets seconds linger in simplicity in such a way that invite engagement. He brings numerous moments to a standstill without telling the reader what to think.

The Story

The Underwater Welder tells the story of Jack Joseph, a father-to-be who works beneath an offshore oil rig as a welder. His father Pete, also a diver, died on Halloween when Jack was only 10. Jack is wrestling with generational chains, working to reconcile the past as he faces his own future.

The story, like the art, is simple enough as to be broadly appealing and applicable. Jack Joseph is utterly ordinary, which makes him accessible. But in the details, Lemire establishes a reason to care for his characters, to invest in their circumstance, and to anticipate the resolution.

Early on, Jack has something of a supernatural underwater encounter that stuns and confuses him at first, nearly killing him. With each passing hour, the encounter entrances him and compels him to return to the water.

Where the story goes all Twilight Zone is in the third and fourth episodes. Jack lives out an eerie extended moment derived especially as a revelation for his life. The noise is removed and he is alone with himself. Without spoiling too much, Jack is trapped by the gift of exploring the his father’s death and his present pain. It is marvelously drawn and presented. It was worth the full price of admission… which makes the 75% off even more celebratory!

In the back half, as Jack fights the generational pull to become his perception of his father, the story and artwork move seamlessly in circuit from young Jack to old Jack to old Pete. Lives are intertwined and in the knotted mess, Jack is figuring out what went wrong, what is still yet right, and where his future lies.

The second half of the story rolls downhill at a lively pace. I loved the conclusion, not because it was unforeseeable, but because it had heart. It had gravity and lent itself to contemplation. Jack Joseph’s life was colored by the complicated life and death of his father. Jack Joseph’s life was about to become the brush that would color his own child’s beginning. This is the tapestry of humanity, and it is worth exploring in all its ordinary glory.

Ultimately, The Underwater Welder is a story about the revelatory power of pressure. Pressure can crush things, leaving only pieces. Pressure can also chip away the brokenness to reveal integrity. Jack’s story, and the destiny of his family, lie in the human response to immense pressure.

A Worthwhile Read

Even as a graphic novel, The Underwater Welder is a welcome moment apart from the noise of life to explore and ponder the complexities of the human soul, a chance to consider the effect of sin that lingers from one generation to the next, an opportunity to weigh the significance of the father/son relationship, and an entertaining and visually engaging read to boot.

Jeff Lemire has set the table for a number of interesting conversations. Grab a cup of coffee and jump in.

 

 

In Brief : The Road

As I’ve read various everyman reviews for Cormac McCarthy’s celebrated novel, The Road, I’ve realized that it can be a polarizing story. There are those who see it as a marvelous tale of sacrificial love and hope. There are others who can’t stand the abandonment of punctuation and the repetitively repetitive nature of it all.

The Road is a post-apocalyptic story of survival featuring a nameless man and his nameless son in an ashen and dreary world. Without crops, animals, or even the sun, the world is on the brink of extinction. The two travel the road in search of life and survivors, though trust is also in short supply as many have turned to crime and cannibalism.

The Road won the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 2007, so it must get something right. But to be honest, I can sympathize with the detractors. Since I finished it this weekend, I’ve come to call it the best worst book I’ve read in a long time. My thoughts are all over the map here, and I could write for days… but since the title says In Brief… 

The Best

Cormac McCarthy drew me in deep with his mastery of English vocabulary. In a world that is gray and barren, he unearths a great variety of words to communicate grayness and barrenness. He draws on language to reveal depths of despair and courage, and for that I am in awe. His prose is elegant.

The dialogue between the man and his son is often cold and distant like the world they traverse – serving a thematic purpose – and is apparently drawn from McCarthy’s own personal relationships.

Given the dire situation, there is no shortage of suspense as they come upon decrepit dwelling after dwelling. The man’s deliberate drive to find sustenance in sketchy places alongside the boy’s hesitation and fear at what else they might find create a fantastic tension both in the story and in their relationship.

Providing contrast and complexity in the characters, the man looks upon every surviving human with skepticism, the boy with compassion. This creates an internal/emotional tension that nicely expands the situational elements.

The Road contains the elements of greatness… which is why it is the best worst book that I’ve read in some time.

The Worst

The artist in me wants to believe that McCarthy left out the punctuation used in the top half of the line (quotations & apostrophes) in order to highlight the glass being half. Half full? Half empty? I suppose that’s a matter of perspective.

The writer in me wants to believe that he left it out in order to blur the lines between the man, his son, and anyone or anything else they happen to encounter. Why attribute words to particular persons when all are simply seeking survival in a blurry world?

The reader in me thinks his prose is strong enough that the lack of punctuation is annoying. McCarthy’s writing doesn’t require tricks. If a device must be overlooked in order to enjoy the book, it’s not worth including.

The characters, while complex, are also quite flat. Just like the world they inhabit, the characters encounter little growth or change (which, I know, is probably the point). I might have enjoyed this aspect more if McCarthy had explored the past a little more or further utilized their dialogue/dreams/flashbacks/thoughts to a greater extent.

I was losing heart in the middle of the book. I really didn’t want to finish. But I read a few reviews (without spoilers) that said, I’m so glad I stuck with it to the end. And so I persisted.

Love and Courage Without Hope

McCarthy’s man embodies sacrifice and survival. He lives for the boy’s wellness. The barren world places them in a situation where flight is not a viable option (from the situation or the accompanying suffering), and so the beauty of his love is that it gives all in the face of insurmountable odds.

McCarthy’s boy is the image of cautious trust, wanting to see goodness yet painfully aware of the reality of evil. He possesses an appropriate and surprising childlike faith, both in his father as protector and provider, and in an uninformed notion of God as a grounded source of black and white amid the world presented as eternally gray.

But while I applaud the complicated relationship of father and son, I diverge from the multitudes in the misguided notion that there is any lasting hope on The Road. McCarthy gives no room for ultimate hope. There is no food. No sunshine. No possibility of growing or cultivating livelihood. Mentions of an eternal reality are hollow at best. Everyone will die, and soon. The only revealed mission of every living human is to consume what remains.

The Road is hopeless. The man’s love has no ultimate relevance because it serves only to prolong both his and the boy’s pain in a world which boasts not even the slightest glimpse of light. The boy’s trust is charming but McCarthy gives no reason to believe he’s accomplished anything but finding a bigger family to die alongside.

Through his apocalypse, McCarthy lifts the veil of worldly distraction and comfort, and exposes the emaciated core of a materialistic worldview. On The Road, it doesn’t matter where we came from or how we got here, because ultimately we’re not going anywhere and so it doesn’t matter which way we go. Love merely serves to make the hopeless tolerable.

If the story meant to convey hope, the least the man could have done was tell the boy about love, beauty, and the colorful world he once knew. Instead, he suppressed it all as dangerous. He prepared the boy for an eternally ashen existence of militant survival.

I might like to ask Cormac McCarthy why he would bother to compose such aesthetic prose to tell the story of a man who refused to allow his son to even imagine color.

There is a journey. But without an anchor upon which to rest questions of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny, The Road leaves us only to eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.

Best worst book.

 

Homeschool Dad : On Chess

Having finished the first year, I’ve been preparing our portfolios for review and giving thought to next year’s curriculum and objectives. It makes sense, then, that I’ve also been reflecting on the year’s highs and lows and evaluating potential changes.

One last-minute subject that I never would have intended to teach were it not for a couple of well-timed blog posts is chess. I’ve long appreciated the game, even if I’ve never spent intentional time considering strategies. I can honestly say I learned alongside the kiddos, and that at this point it is only a matter of time before they far exceed my capabilities.

For a text, I chose two books. The Batsford Book of Chess for Children (book links to Amazon) by Sabrina Chevannes was the favorite. Chevannes introduces the game using the framework of a conversation between a comic brother and sister, top-notch color graphics, and enough humor to engage the kiddos. (Star Wars references are helpful!) Our students (age 9, 9, and 7 at the outset) loved it, understood it, and looked forward to it weekly.

Chess for Children by Murray Chandler became our supplementary text. This bare-boned presentation rests on the same level as Batsford. Though a little cluttered and monochrome, there are tremendous paper exercises throughout this book that proved useful.

For a schedule, we chose Mondays for lessons, and three days throughout the week for individual games. While one of the kiddos would read aloud to me, the other two would face off. As the year rolled on, we added notation to their games so that they could practice writing, reading, and reliving games.

Once we finished the text, we began reviewing tournament matches as a way of introducing opening strategies. Thanks to chessgames.com, we were able to visit a number of classic master matches and see how a variety of players utilized particular opening moves. The kiddos particularly enjoyed meeting Bobby Fischer and his King’s Indian.

Perhaps the nerdy dad highlight of the year was the first time the kiddos responded to an aggressive bishop capture with a boisterous OH!, or a queen sacrifice with a loud WHAT?!? as if they had just watched Randy Johnson blow up a bird.

To sum up, teach them chess. Teach them to think abstractly and strategically. Rejoice when they work together as a team to defeat you. Be afraid when you realize your now-8yr old daughter traps your queen – on purpose. Celebrate when they challenge random college students to games and win. Delight in the development of a wholly different portion of their amazing brains!

In Brief: Pinocchio

Our literary quest through the homeschool year ended with a massive flourish as we enjoyed Carlo Lorenzini’s (better known as Collodi, his adopted surname which doubles as the name of his hometown) classic Pinocchio. 

From a schooling perspective, our typical approach with any classic is to read the book, view the most popular version on film, and then write a reflection piece detailing the similarities, differences, and our personal preferences. In the case of Pinocchio, my children and I unanimously preferred the Collodi version.

My daughter preferred the suspense of the 1883 classic. My sons preferred the broader variety in the story and the detail with which Collodi brought the puppet and secondary characters to life. Personally, I preferred the depth of Pinocchio’s transformation which was utterly (and regrettably) absent in the mammoth Disney offering.

The Page vs. The Silver Screen

If there are complaints about the original tale of the beloved puppet, typically they revolve around his biting and nasty character, or the lethal peril which he faces after every increasingly disappointing decision. In all honesty, Pinocchio is as much the villain of the novel as any other. But it is the depth of the marionette’s depravity that makes his repentance all the more glorious.

The movie presents Pinocchio as the whimsical boy whose one bad decision leads to a series of unfortunate events. The viewer is led to sympathize with Pinocchio as a victim. His brokenness is shallow. So, then, is his eventual transformation into a real boy. What was the point of it all? I guess when you wish upon a star, your mild misadventure will end in all your dreams coming true?

Collodi’s Pinocchio makes repeated willfully disobedient decisions, each a slap in the face to those who have loved him most. He abuses the sacrificial gifts of his father who fashioned him from a talking piece of wood. He rejects the redemptive efforts of the blue fairy who repeatedly comes to his aid. At every turn, he laments his situation, pleading for help and half-heartedly feigning sadness. He loves complaining and being the recipient of the world’s pity. It’s easy to dislike Gepetto’s puppet.

Even when he turns completely into an ass (the most egregious omission from the movie), he doesn’t break. Even when he is then sold into the big top to perform tricks, he does not repent. Even when he’s lamed after failing at the tricks and sold to a trader who intends to kill him, skin him, and turn him into a drum, he’s not ready to change.

It’s only when that trader throws him into the sea with a millstone around his neck that the Pinocchio of the page changes. Critics of the book complain that Pinocchio so vividly describes the fifty-minute ordeal under the sea where fish consume his donkey flesh, leaving only the wooden skeleton behind. But it is this death that leads to Pinocchio’s true repentance.

Upon being pulled from the sea by the man (who then realized he wasn’t getting his drum!), Pinocchio repents. He changes. He seeks after his father Gepetto who had been swallowed by a great fish while searching for his son. He cares for the ailing blue fairy, sacrificing every earthly penny to restore her to health.

And it is at the end of this journey that Pinocchio becomes a real boy.

Sometimes the best part of good news is first knowing the bad news. Where Disney, sadly, offers cheap grace and a couple of catchy songs, Collodi walked his main character through the valley of the shadow of death. My children and I both appreciated the depth of Collodi’s story, which only left us wanting more of the film.

The Takeaway

More than a morality tale, Pinocchio tells the story of a living creature who was little more than dust, who was crafted into the image of his maker, destroyed his own conscience (yes, Collodi’s Pinocchio kills the cricket at the first suggestion that his actions were foolish), swallowed the most dastardly lies, and discarded the most valuable treasures, believing that his way would be more fruitful.

The real Pinocchio shows the consequence of foolishness as the main character chases fleeting pleasures and transforms fully into a donkey, just as it was promised he would.

The real Pinocchio shows that a cheap turn will not suffice. Talk is cheap if the heart remains darkened. Only the death of wicked selfishness can lead to the kind of change that would satisfy his heart’s greatest desire.

Pinocchio then shows the power of a transformed life as it radiates with true love, self-sacrifice, generosity, and joy.

Personally, I believe my children preferred Collodi’s story because it echoes the greatest story. Likewise, I think many dislike the original because it provides an all-too-familiar look into the depths of our own souls and makes clear that the road to true transformation comes through death to self.

The cost of becoming what we were created to be is quite severe. More than we would or could pay on our own. Am I allowed to say that Collodi’s Pinocchio made me praise my Savior?

 

 

Homeschool Dad : Year One

To think I commented at having taken two weeks in between posts in October. Our school year was complete yesterday – year one is in the books. I cannot state in a sentence the magnitude of the blessing I’ve received this year in exercising the privilege of educating my children. I loved it.

A friend asked recently how we’ve enjoyed the year. After sharing some of my joy, I shared that I only blew up a few times. That is, I could only recall a few instances where frustration reached a boiling point. To be sure of this, I asked #2 how many times dad exploded this year, to which he replied, “I don’t know, maybe three times?” Whew.

A year that began with uncertainty ended with assurance. I can do this. They can survive this. We can grow together. We can build fruitful rhythms into our lives and enjoy an inordinate amount of time together. I can still get my work done.

There is no doubt that these home rhythms have infringed on the other rhythms of life – work in particular. However, they’ve brought deep contemplation and consideration to bear on my views of family, work, and life. There are scores of topics to discuss in this realm. Perhaps with the summer hours I’ll get to a few of them.

In the meantime, I am encouraged. I am thankful. I am excited to see how we’ll adapt our summer rhythms and celebrate the break from formal education. I’m hoping we still play chess all summer, read fabulous books (and maybe even a bad one…), and explore the all-too-curious past, present, and future of this precious life we’ve been granted.

 

Homeschool Dad : Friday

Two weeks. I’ve taken a break of two weeks from posting. And yes, that was enough time for me to make yet another adjustment to what is now “normal.” Thankfully, I enjoy change and exploration, so I’ve relished the variety.

Perhaps the most exciting change is a new bit of furniture in our reading room. Three boys share one bedroom, two girls another. My wife and I have decided to use the attic as a bedroom, which leaves our smallest bedroom vacant. This has become our reading room… just another space to allow for learning.

07:45am – wake kiddos
08:20am – stretch
08:25am – catechism & prayer
08:35am – family walk
09:00am – history
09:30am – music
10:00am – literature
10:30am – language arts
11:20am – lunch
12:15pm – (take #4 to preschool)
12:45pm – Twenty Questions
01:15pm – math #1
01:35pm – math #2
02:00pm – math #3
03:00pm – (pick up #4 from preschool)

I love Fridays. A Top 5 decision this year was to stand in opposition to many homeschool advocates by foregoing classical music in favor of the history of rock ‘n roll. I’ll speak on that decision in a later post, but it has given Fridays a certain enjoyable edge, and also allowed for a particular connection with my kiddos that extends well beyond our studies. (Besides, I can’t lose them to pop music without their knowing what they’re missing…)

Twenty Questions is our version of a weekly review. The questions range all subjects except for math. The front side is typically 17 quite varied inquiries, but nothing so detailed as to be outrageous or unfair. If they’ve paid attention all week, they survive without difficulty. The back side is a specific review for language arts with careful attention to spelling, capitalization, punctuation, etc. We tend to get pretty fired up reviewing 20Q. It’s a highlight of the week. We celebrate what we know!

Each of these five days has become a time to cherish with my kiddos. Fifty-two days in, I am loving the homeschool experience. I am excited to share more on the curriculum choices in the coming weeks.

Homeschool Dad : Thursday

As I set out to make the schedule at the beginning of the year, I wanted there to be a day that offered the most flexibility, primarily to learn outside the home. The structure of our Thursday fits our lives well for this purpose.

Because #4 doesn’t have preschool, we are free to roam the town and learn in a different setting. We are free to head to the nature reserve to see creation, the museum to see history, the science center to uncover mysteries.

We sing hymns at night, so that subject can be flexed as needed. We can read a book over lunch in the city if the day calls for it. We can review spelling words during a van ride. Even a chess board is portable enough if we wanted to play on the road. This is true for most days (the beauty of homeschool!), but I seem to aim for Thursday.

07:45am – wake kiddos
08:20am – stretch
08:25am – catechism & prayer
08:35am – family walk
09:00am – hymn study
09:30am – literature
10:00am – language arts
10:30am – reading aloud #3 (#1 v. #2 chess)
11:20am – lunch
12:30pm – science
01:00pm – math #1 (#2 math app / #3 reading)
01:30pm – math #2 (#3 math app / #1 reading)
02:00pm – math #3 (#1 math app / #2 reading)

The hymn study is multi-faceted. It has an eye towards music, language, poetry, and history as we try to unearth the stories that inspired the hymns. As I mentioned earlier, we sing often as a family, and so this particular subject has immediate impact on the house, with obvious educational insights. I believe it’s possible to incorporate subjects that directly reflect and feed family life!

This is the first day that I’ve mentioned anything having to do with technology. Those who know me are probably surprised that I don’t have the kiddos writing on slates with chalk, given my general hesitations when it comes to tech in the classroom. But I am always on the lookout for apps that are helpful without pressing too far into edutainment. Currently, the math app essentially digitizes flash cards, so I’m willing to bend! (There’s probably a series of posts on the ubiquity of tech stewing somewhere in my feeble brain)

Four days in. The week is rolling downhill at this point. I’m looking forward to crystallizing a few thoughts on our current curriculum as well… even if it only helps me to set direction for the future!

 

 

 

Homeschool Dad : Wednesday

Homeschooling while maintaining a work life outside the home presents unique challenges. Ministry, thankfully, is remarkably flexible and often operates during hours outside of school (especially when the focus of my particular vocational calling involves children, youth, and families).

Wednesday is a day of such challenges. Mentoring over breakfast, an afternoon staff meeting, and an evening study group are all specific challenges to the homeschooling day. However, this is why we’ve been given imaginations, is it not?

07:45am – wake kiddos
08:20am – stretch
08:25am – catechism & prayer
08:35am – family walk
09:00am – history
09:30am – reading aloud #2 (#1 v. #3 chess)
10:00am – literature
10:30am – language arts
11:20am – lunch
12:15pm – (take #4 to preschool)
01:00pm – (Dad’s staff meeting)
01:00pm – math worksheets
01:30pm – copywork
02:00pm – independent study
03:00pm – (pick up #4 from preschool)

Wednesday afternoons are interesting because my attention is required in two places at one time. The weekly staff meeting is necessary and often quite fruitful, and I’ve resolved to make that time fruitful for the kiddos as well.

With the kiddos being younger, a great deal of our math curriculum is oral (tables, problem-solving, etc.). I’ve chosen Wednesday afternoons to present them with the worksheets which adorn our state-mandated portfolio – evidence of growth in the craft. These also allow me to see that their developing mental acuity functions just as well on paper as it does when guided by the soothing sound of Dad’s voice…

We also use Wednesday afternoons for a bit of copywork, which most often is a reinforcement of our previous week’s Hymn study (see the Thursday schedule). I like having them write out the songs for a couple reasons. One, I appreciate their value theologically. But I also appreciate their value as poetry. The language of the past is often vivid and varied. I believe exposure to the words and ways of the past has benefits that far outweigh the difficulties.

Finally, I’m working out in practice what independent study looks like for younger children. The kiddos have selected a topic (all animals) that they are researching for a presentation at the end of the year. This concept is a work in progress, for sure.

Wednesdays are perhaps my greatest challenge because of the level of independence, but the first eight weeks have proven quite nice.

 

 

 

Homeschool Dad : Tuesday

I’m still new enough in the realm of homeschooling that, even as I share the current patterns of our days, I am evaluating and asking myself if there aren’t immediate improvements that could be made.

One thing I have noticed to this point in the year is that the schedule is a work in progress. While I have made changes, I have tried not to make constant changes. I know I will have time to fine tune adjustments. Here stands our current Tuesday:

07:45am – wake kiddos
08:20am – stretch
08:25am – catechism & prayer
08:35am – family walk
09:00am – geography
09:30am – art
10:00am – literature
10:30am – language arts
11:00am – reading aloud #1 (#2 v. #3 chess)
11:30am – lunch
12:45pm – science
01:15pm – math #1 (#2/#3 silent reading)
01:35pm – math #2 (#1/#3 silent reading)
02:00pm – math #3 (#1/#2 silent reading)

At a glance, it would seem that we read a lot. And we do. Two principles are fixed in my brain which may or may not be entirely true, but which we pursue nonetheless.

First is that a great deal of learning is both taught and caught. I wake up Monday through Friday intending to fill my children with what little knowledge and wisdom I have to impart through a teacher-student paradigm. But I also recognize that their repeated exposure to varied forms of literature will leave varied and valuable imprints.

I can and will teach them spelling, capitalization, when to use quotation marks, when to break a paragraph. But I can also immerse them in books which will teach these rules without ever speaking an intentional word on the matter. And if I’m being honest, I recognize that a great many books do so in a far more engaging and interesting fashion.

(Obviously, literature leaves other imprints that can be positive and negative to their impressionable minds, which is why we are also trying to cultivate a family culture of discussing what we read!)

The second principle I keep in mind is that a life of learning is inextricably tied to the ability to read. Much wisdom comes from simply living, but exponentially more is also available on printed pages. I want reading to be comfortable and normal. I want to instill and train them for a life of learning that extends well beyond my ability to teach. I want their knowledge, and their thirst for understanding, to far exceed my own.

And so we read. I read aloud to them. They read aloud to me. They read silently. We talk about what we read. Tuesdays certainly highlight that. And, to this point in the year, I believe we are all growing as a result.

 

 

Homeschool Dad : Monday

While asking what homeschooling might do to my life, I also began to seek out typical schedules from across the web. I don’t say this often, but as I carried out this search, I was thankful for the internet. I was able to peruse a great many week-long breakdowns, among which mine will now digitally rest.

Since I’ve already shared a snapshot of a “typical” weekday from my perspective, I wanted to share the same from the perspective of the kiddos. I’ll discuss each day briefly, and then if I remember, I’ll post the full week in PDF format.

07:45am – wake kiddos
08:20am – stretch
08:25am – catechism & prayer
08:35am – family walk
09:00am – history
09:30am – chess
10:15am – literature
10:45am – language arts
11:20am – lunch
12:15pm – (take #4 to preschool)
12:45pm – science
01:15pm – math #1 (#2/#3 reading)
01:35pm – math #2 (#1/#3 reading)
02:00pm – math #3 (#1/#2 reading)
03:00pm – (retrieve #4 from preschool)

I’ve found stretching to be a great start to the day, as it gets everyone up and moving. I won’t lie, after going on my run, I welcome the stretches as well. It is a nice warm up into our family walk as well. At times, we’ll walk my wife to work (about 3/4mi away), or we’ll just wander the neighborhood. The kiddos have umbrellas, coats, and boots, and so far we’ve been able to get outside regardless of the weather.

With fresh air and a bit of movement under our belts, we start the day. I try to alternate word-heavy subjects with hands-on subjects in order to keep the kiddos engaged.

Catechism is a Q&A format of doctrinal instruction. It has obvious implications from a faith perspective, but it is also an exercise in memorization, which is helpful for the whole family!

On Monday, chess is a demonstrated lesson. This being our first year, we are working through the various pieces (with mini-games), terminology, maneuvers, strategy, etc. We apply what we’ve learned during play through the middle of the week.

We’ve settled on mathematics as one of two individualized subjects this year. It is a subject that can easily be customized, and this allows me to encourage and challenge the kiddos at their own pace. With three very different aptitudes, it only makes sense to focus this time for each kid.

This means that everything else is presented to the group (age 9, 9, and 7). We do most work around the dining room table, but we move around the house (inside and out), and around the town to change the setting when available and appropriate.

As a final note, the schedule has a wealth of time built in for the sake of flexibility. We walk around town a lot. We take breaks. We spend time in conversation. We make hot cocoa. We eat snacks. We use the bathroom. Lessons vary in length based on the day, the subject, and the material at hand. As I said in my last post, I give the day to my children. We have a routine, but we also have to leave room for life to happen!

I can talk more about specific classes and curriculum choices in the days/weeks to come. But for this week, it’s all about the schedule.