Sunday, August 26, 2018

4 Steps for Living the Liturgical Year with Children

Today, someone asked how to go about living the liturgical year with children, and I found myself sharing the 4 steps I go through to do so:

1.  Put Your "Big Rocks" in first.
Years ago, I heard  Stephen Covey's Big Rocks story and the idea of "big rocks" has never left my brain.

Regarding the liturgical year, of course, the biggest rock is Mass.  I try to go daily and to get my children to Mass at least 2-3 times a week. 

On the days when the children do not go to Mass with me, we typically read the Daily Mass Readings and chat briefly about them.  We also often read or listen to a brief story of a "saint of the day".

We also prioritize a weekly Holy Hour of Divine Mercy and monthly Children's Rosary, which may, technically, be more tied to prayer habits than the liturgical year, but which we consider part of "calendar" of liturgical living.

Besides that, I consider our "big rocks" the larger seasons and feasts of the liturgical year - Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Holy Days of Obligations.  Thus, I make sure to reserve time for family traditions and observances during these times.

2.  Add Some "Pebbles"
With the "big rocks" in the jar of life, "pebbles" fit in next. 

For my family, these are smaller, personal celebrations, such as Name Days, Baptism anniversaries, feast days that have become traditional for us, etc.

On such days, we often find ourselves reading particular books, praying special prayers, eating symbolic foods, and simply enjoying living our faith.
3.  Shake in Some "Sand"
Next, comes the "sand" of living the liturgical year.

For us, that means observances of
 saint days, monthly dedications, etc. which we enjoy through many means - audios, movies, displays, special foods, poet-teas, nature study, instant challenges, etc.

4.  Fill Up on "Water"
Finally, we pour the "water" of liturgical living into life's cup - that is, embracing whatever fits into life without stressing us out.

And, of course, we do all this with a sense of letting the Spirit lead us, understanding that, outside of Mass and simply living as we are called to live, the rest is "extra". 

The stories, the faith through food, the gatherings, the movies, the outings, the audios, the displays, the you-name-it... are all blessings that enhance our faith journey only when we can add them in without taking away from living the responsibilities of our vocations and responding with love to those around us.

Indeed, sometimes in order to keep Christ at the center of our lives, we need to let go of some of our liturgical observances and celebrations and just live the day at hand, responding to what God has put in front us.

Resources for Living Liturgically
Some go-to blogs and sites I use for inspiring our liturgical celebrations are:

There are more, too!  And, I always love finding new ones, so, please do leave your favorites in the comments!

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Enjoy a Nature Craft and Poetry for St. Rose of Lima's Feast Day

Last year, I shared a long list of ideas for celebrating St. Rose of Lima's feast day on August 23rd.  Among them, were the lyrics of a song attributed to St. Rose:

Tiny singer, flit your wings;
Bow before the King of kings.
Let your lovely concert rise
To Him Who gave you songs and skies.
Let your throat, full of carols sweet,
Pour them before the Eternal's feet
That we His praise may magnify
Whom birds and angels glorify.
I shall sing to Him who saved me:
You will sing to Him who made ye.
Both together, we shall bless
The God of love and happiness.
Sing, sing with bursting throat and heart!
In turn our voices will take part
To sing together, you and I,
A canticle of holy joy.
{As the bird flew away:}
The little bird abandons me:
My playmate's wings ascend.
Blessed be my God,
Who faithfully Stays with me to the end.

Then, when going through an old pile of papers the other day,  I found a print out of how to make an Easy Orange Bird Feeder.  I had kept these instructions as a "tickler" idea for a craft for a future Our Lady of Altagracia feast day celebration, however, tonight, I realized the craft could be an ideal one for this week!

What a simple, enjoyable pairing it would be to read and chat about the lyrics of the song, and, then, make the bird feeders to hang, perhaps while listening to some birdsong:

Or even becoming more expert at indentifying bird calls.

I hope to enjoy this simple poetry and nature time as a part of our St. Rose of Lima observances and activities this year.  I'd love to hear what your may do!

St. Rose of Lima, pray for us!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

A Wonderful Book for Homeschool Mamas {A Review}

Have you been seeking encouragement, perspective, or a chat with a veteran homeschooler?  You may enjoy God Schooling: How God Intended Children to Learn by Julie Polanco.

Julie is a homeschooling mom of four who has already graduated one child and is still in the trenches with her other children.  During her homeschool journey, she has learned to let God lead the way and has also taken to sharing the wisdom she has learned.

Her work has appeared in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Home Education Magazine, and many trade publications.  She has also developed a high school botany course for and, of course, written the book I have been blessed to read this past month - 
God Schooling.

In a nutshell, in 
God SchoolingJulie shares the struggles and soul searching she faced at the beginning of her homeschool journey and, then, moves on to elaborate upon the unschooling approach she chose to follow.  As she does, she offers stories, insights, and food for thought for homeschoolers of all kinds - unschoolers, relaxed homeschoolers, and traditional homeschoolers.  (Relaxes homeshcoolers and unschoolers, however, will likely appreciate the book the most.)

The book is divided into two parts:

  • Part 1: Dispelling Myths
  • Part 2: Practice

In Part 1 - which is two chapters long, Julie encourages you to help your children learn naturally, as "God intended"* and offers plenty of Scripture to support her point of view. 

In Part 2 - which is 7 chapter long, Julie dives into how to teach children under eight years old, those between the ages of eight and 12, and teens, attending to their development needs, building character, focusing on relationships, and guiding children to be who God calls them to be.

Julie also tells you how to get started on child-led, natural learning, addresses common questions and answers, and shares ideas for keeping records of non-traditional learning in a world that so often demands proof of academic progress.

At the end of each chapter are questions to help you further digest, reflect upon, and discuss the ideas in the book and how to apply them to your family's homeschool journey.
*I put as "God intended" in quotes, because, although I agree with many things Julie shares, I do not believe that God intends all homeschoolers to be unschoolers, and, I think that, at times, Julie writes in such a way that more traditional homeschoolers might miss some gems of wisdom while dismissing some things as "well, that works for her, but not for me and mine" or bristling about feeling that their more traditional homeschooling approach being considered not God's intention. 

That said, I do not think Julie is saying other approaches are wrong or that God might not have different plans for different people's approaches.  I just wonder if uber-structured homeschoolers might feel Julie does, and, therefore miss some of the wonderful gems of wisdom in the book - and, gems are aplenty!

My Thoughts on the Book

God Schooling encouraging you to put God at the center of your homeschooling endeavors and to ask Him to lead you to what works for your family.  It also reminds you to work on character and relationships before academics

From its earliest pages, the book offers food for thought.  For example:

"Curriculum can be a great tool as long as it doesn’t become our religion." (p. 6)

So often, at this time of year, decisions center around what curricula or curriculum activities will be done in the fall.  That makes it easy to lose sight of the WHY of our homeschooling journey while focusing on the what.  Those words brought me back to a truth I already knew.

"If God has prepared…works for your child to do, then won’t He make sure she is adequately prepared for them?" (p. 11)

All three of my children are in very different places with their learning styles and their actual skills. This can be challenging.  Even more challenging is the constant chatter in my brain that wonders if I am doing the right things right now to lead my children to the future God has prepared for them.

When I read the words above, I felt so encouraged, remembering that no matter what I do, God is in control, not me.  Yes, I need to do my part, but, in the end, He has a call for each of my children, and He will ensure they are ready to meet it.

"The one thing we can do and are admonished to do is to…train our children in righteousness." (p. 13)

Of course, the day I began reading the book was "one of those days" when I was feeling the tug between tasks that needed to be done at home, commitments we had with others, where my children are at with their skills, and what had overcome my children and turned them into less-than-virtuous young humans that day.

The words above - although not sharing a new concept with me - reminded me to just pause everything and work on character.  ALWAYS, guiding my children toward virtue should trump everything else.

This same idea was echoed later in the book, - and "needed" by me each time.

In fact, there were so many portion of the book that "spoke" to me, I believe God put 
God Schooling in my hands right now to help guide me toward guiding my oldest child' next phase of development.

You see, I've been in a place recently where I am debating what direction to go with homeschooling my three very different learners, and, especially, my oldest. 

A traditional curriculum-in-a-box approach has never worked for my children nor me.  So, through the years, we've leaned toward eclectic, with some 
inspiration from Montessori, Charlotte Mason, unschooling and more. 

To date, this has worked for us for the most part.  However, now my oldest is middle school age, and I have been praying and thinking about whether to gear up more with traditional curriculum-type learning for him, to embrace a Charlotte Mason approach more faithfully, or, to finally, just "let go and let God" by diving into true unschooling approach for him.

Truth be told, my son would love to be an unchooler, and my husband has said he thinks it might be the best approach for him.  I agree - to a point - but have reservations.  I am a former school teacher and a recovering Type A personality, so it is hard for me to to let go 100% from conventional approaches.  I am also running in a lot of directions with responsibilities to home, homeschool, work, and more, and, therefore, I admit I have a bit of fear that I won't have the time to unschool well.  I might not have time and focus to keep up with my son's child-led learning...

So, yep, I have a ways to go with my thoughts and have found 
God Schooling quit encouraging.  Reading it affirmed for me that if, indeed, God is calling me to unschool my oldest, it will be okay!

The book may have a different message for you. Read it and see.   It is well worth reading, and God will surely speak to you through parts of it!

Learn More

Read the first chapter of the book for free!

You can also get the e-book for 50% off through August 22. 

Follow Julie on social media:

Read what other Review Crew families thought about the book.

God Schooling: How God Intended Children to Learn {Julie Polanco Reviews}
Read more reviews.

Crew Disclaimer

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Enjoy a Paddington Bear Unit Study

We are big picture book lovers in our home, so I was curious to check out one of the Picture Book Explorer Packs from Branch Out WorldPaddington Bear when it came up for review.

Made for Homeschoolers by a Homeschooler

This literature-based unit study is aimed at children ages 5-10, but appropriate for a wider range, too.  It comes as a downlaodable pdf, so you can use it with all your children at once - printing copies of maps, mini-books, and more for each child to complete - or with one child now and another child later.   

Obviously, the study's creator Helen Royston gets that homeschool families appreciate the freedom of being able to ethically print as many copies of the study materials as necessary for family use.  That may be because Helen is a 25+ year homeschool veteran herself.

Like all Picture Book Explorer Packs, the Paddington Bear one has a link to the United Kingdom and provides fun and learning for families.

What Will You Find Yourself Doing During This Unit Study?

Used as designed, you read the picture book Paddington by Michael Bond (ISBN 978-0007236336) over five consecutive days and choose accompanying activities from the study to complete.  These activities are grouped, daily, by subject area:

  • Day 1 – Exploring the Setting:  You can learn about England and Peru, do mapwork, create timelines, make a mini-book about the pushes and pulls of migration, and more.
  • Day 2 – Exploring the Words:  You can read about the author of Paddington Bear Michael Bond, chat about themes, encourage narration, make a vocabulary pocket, spotlight subject-verb agreement, focus on characterization, and adapt stories for different audiences.

  • Day 3 – Exploring the Pictures:  You can learn about the illustrator R.W. Alley, do a picture study of one of the book's illustrations, chat about and/or make a mini-book of architectural features, learn about principles of design and try your hand at overlapping and creating emphasis through the use of color, leading lines, contrast, and position - studying an illustration from the book and, then, creating your own artwork.
  • Day 4 – Exploring Science: You can learn about spectacled bears and fill out a fact sheet if you like, learn about shaving cream, create edible and nob-edible foam, explore steam and do nature study in your garden.

  • Day 5 – Exploring Math, Crafts and More: You can explore parallel and perpendicular lines (in connection with train tracks), play around with numbers spotted in the book, explore spatial awareness with packing (in reality or with a paper template), make shaving foam art, create a cultural craft, cook up recipes, and more.
Truly, if unit studies are your family's favored style of learning, this one is excellently written - providing information and ideas that you might not readily find elsewhere and helping your children make connections while also making memories.

There are over 30 activities described in the book and pages and pages of printables including timelines, mini-books, maps, flags, and notebooking pages.  There are also handy lists of needed supplies and book and film go-alongs. It is a well-written study.

It is also one that can be used flexibly!

How Did We Use This Study So Far?

My children and our lifestyle do not currently accommodate sitting down and reading the same picture book day after day for five days.  Nor are we able to spend time this summer diving into loads of Paddington-inspired activities.

What we have been able to do is cuddle on the couch with a picture book in hand and a unit study nearby on a laptop creen during a few particularly rainy days when other plans have been cancelled. 

As such, we have enjoyed reading together, then, using portions of the unit study pdf on-screen to help guide chatter about the book's author, the illustrator, certain pictures, art and design techniques, and more.

We have also pulled up the included maps and named South America and the United Kingdom, found London and Peru, etc.  (Because we are in a constant battle against paper piles here and simply do not want to print more things that will increase their depth, we chose to do many of the activities in this study through discussion and pointing onscreen rather than through printing, coloring, cutting, and writing.)

We have opted to forgo some of the messier or more time-consuming experiments and recipes included in the study for the time being, but have read through them and are looking forward to trying some out during colder, less busy seasons.

However, because we do like hands-on things, we have not delayed all the fun!

Indeed, we opted for some hands-on art and math -which has been enjoyable (and easier to clean up then science and cooking at this juncture in life!)

We have also borrowed a stack of other Paddington books from our local library to use for free reading and 1:1 reading times and have been happy to revisit the character that we spent time with previously when my oldest was younger.

Without question, as we have revisited Paddigton using our Branch Out WorldPaddington Bear, we have made new connections

We have also been able to apply ideas from the study - such as those we practiced on layering and emphasis - in making cards for a sick friend.

This was a fun endeavor that made the study more valuable to us.

For, in our homeschool endeavors, even more valuable than a lesson learned in connection to a piece of literature, is a concept or skill we can incorporate into daily life.

Inspired by the conversations we had during unit study activities about themes in the book - such a being kind to others...

And, knowing a dear little baby we know is in the hospital with a very serious condition, and we'd be blessed to see his siblings, we decided to step away from just drawing fruits as suggested in the unit study, and, to apply art and design ideas to creating cards with well wishes instead...

I just love that things discussed and focused on with the study transferred to life so easily.

Helen Royston did a wonderful job researching and presenting information, activities, and ideas for this study.  
I truly appreciate how this homeschool resource could provide a full week's worth of homeschool studies or can be used flexibly in the time life allows for it.

Of course, is you are a picture book and unit study lover with elementary-aged children 
Branch Out WorldPaddington Bear  is ideal. 

Learn More

Some of the other Homeschool Review Crew families dove into all of the activities in this unit study 100% and have wonderful photos and thoughts to share.  Be sure to click through to find their reviews.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Immaculate Heart of Mary Prayer Aids

The month of August is dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, so my daughter helped me set up our August liturgical shelf with an aim to focus our prayers this month.

On the base of our display, we chose to use a blue tablecloth with white lace over it, since Mary is traditionally depicted in blue and white.  (Blue for royalty and heaven; white for purity.)  My daughter, however, also thought we needed red for Mary's Immaculate Heart.  So, she got to work with cardstock, cutting out a red heart and attaching it to a handmade origama box.

Initially, we were going to use the box to hold some sort of small  item each time we prayed, much like we did with the small chalice in our July liturgical shelf, but, then, we realized that the box is the perfect size for prayer cards.  So, it became our prayer card holder.  

If you make something similar, though, you could easily place a flower petal, bead, or small object in the box every time your offered a prayer to Mary and her Immaculate Heart.
{Some links in this post are affiliate ones.}

Some prayers you could use,might be the ones found on the prayer cards we are using: The Golden Prayer, An Offering to Mary, and the Consecration to Mary.

Statues and images also help focus our prayers, so one one side of our prayer card holder, we placed our Immaculate Heart of Mary statue.  (Long-time readers my recognize the statue as she has been in our mini Mary gardensAssumption celebration tables, and more.)

On the other side of our prayer card holder, we put our peg doll of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. (We got this in a Marian swap we did.)

Then, we balanced the corners of our shelf with two mini displays, too.

On one side, 
my daughter placed a favorite card with an image of our Lady and Our Lord on a wooden easel (almost like this one) and surrounded it with blue and white candles.

On the other side, I put our read together for the month: St. Louis De Montfort: The Story of Our Lady's Slave and surrounded it with a homemade Paschal candle and an Immaculate Heart of Mary prayer candle.  We also put some rosaries there for easy reach!

All of the prayer aids on our August feast table, we hope, will help us focus our prayer and turn our own hearts towards virtues and live for Jesus, as Mary's heart is always turned.   

We'd love to see pictures of your August liturgical shelf, feast table, or prayer corner and also to hear about your favorite books, images prayers, etc. related to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  Please do share them in a comment here or
on our Facebook page.

We'd also appreciate if you'd pray with us for a baby we know that had unexpected heart surgery within the past few weeks and may need another surgery if a miracle of healing does not occur. 

Thank you for praying with us!

O Most Blessed Mother, 
heart of love, heart of mercy, 
ever listening, caring, consoling, 
hear our prayer. 
As your children, 
we implore your intercession 
with Jesus your Son. 
Receive with understanding and compassion,
the petitions we place before you today,
especially for the healing 
of the heart of a baby named Alex
We are comforted 
in knowing your heart is ever open 
to those who ask for your prayer.
We trust to your gentle care and intercession,
those whom we love and who are sick
or lonely or hurting. 
Help all of us, Holy Mother, 
to bear our burdens in this life
until we may share eternal life 
and peace with God forever.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

3 Ways to Celebrate the Assumption of Mary

August 15 is the feast day of the Assumption of Mary, so, once again, we are planning festivities with friends.

As I so often do, I am taking a look back before planning forward, As I do, I thought I would share how we celebrated the Assumption of Mary last year, since I think it could inspire some of your domestic church celebrations this year.

Enjoy "Assumption Waffles" as a Family Breakfast (or Breakfast-for-Dinner)

We have a long-standing tradition of enjoying waffle sundaes on the Assumption.

Thus, last year, I greeted my family with a simple Assumption of Mary breakfast on the deck.

Flowers brought cheer to our table and, also, reminded us that today is a traditional day for the Blessing of the Herbs and Flowers.

A Madonna Rosary Holder focused us on Our Lady's image and also reminded us to pray the Rosary, or at least the Assumption decade.

A beautiful image of the Assumption offered us talking points in the way of a picture study and pages from A Year with God were read as well.

Blue and white candles, table decor, and food, all reminded us of Our Lady - the white for her purity and the blue for royalty, the heavens, and peace.

The waffle sundaes themselves with rich with symbolism:

Round brown GFCF waffles served as our "earth".  These were topped with syrup for the "sweetness of our Lord" and blueberries for the heavens (and to remind us of traditional Assumption festivities honoring first fruits).  Other toppings were: banana slices, ice cream, yogurt, and/or cashew nuts all reminiscent of the clouds so often depicted in images of the Assumption as well as of the purity of Mary and of God's love for us.

We all loved our breakfast - although one tired boy had trouble waking up for it as can be seen by his face in the photo - and will be repeating some semblance of it this year.

This year, however, we will be adding a bit of typology to our chat, since, each year, I try to add some new bit of symbolism, catechism, story, or artwork to our celebrations.

In Number 4:4-6. It says when the Ark was outside the Holy of Holies (when it was being transported) it was to be covered with a blue veil.

The Virgin Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, often appears in blue to visionaries (as she did as Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Our Lady of Banneax and in so many more of apparitions of Our Lady.

In the Catechism is says, "Mary, in whom the Lord himself has just made his dwelling, is the daughter of Zion in person, the Ark of the Covenant, the place where the glory of God dwells. She is 'the dwelling of God [...] with men.'" (CCC# 2676

The Virgin Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, often appears in blue to visionaries (as she did as Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Our Lady of Banneax and in so many more of apparitions of Our Lady

In the Catechism is says, "Mary, in whom the Lord himself has just made his dwelling, is the daughter of Zion in person, the Ark of the Covenant, the place where the glory of God dwells. She is 'the dwelling of God [...] with men.'" (CCC# 2676)

Go to Mass and Spend Heavenly Time Outdoors

My husband and I have long considered the beach of be a bit of "heaven on earth", so, after Mass in a nearby town, we took a short nature walk to the ocean and enjoyed a quick picnic lunch before he had to go off to work.  

Of course, by the time we had been to noon Mass, walked out to the beach, and prayed grace, everyone was hungry and wanted to eat, so Daddy was being goofy during Mom's "capture the moment for my memory" photos.

Then, we were all too busy enjoying chips, hummus, and watermelon by the ocean to take more photos.

I also laughed, because our quick picnic lunch was packed more for convenience than for symbolism, yet the children noted symbolism: 

Our 3-sided chips brought to mind the Holy Family, where Mary began her life as Mother of God and of the Holy Trinity, which she is now sees as Queen of Heaven.

Dipping our chips in hummus reminds us of how God continually comes down to earth for us - walking in the garden with Adam and Eve, coming in human form as Jesus, descending as the Holy Spirit...

And, fruit reminded us, again, of the traditional blessings made around the world today as well as of how when we say "yes" to God like Mary did, it brings fruit.

Gather for An Assumption Day Nature Walk, Blessing, "Tea", and Crafts

Once again this year, our friend played host and I facilitator for a wonderful Assumption Day celebration for her children and mine.

We started with a nature walk to go find herbs and wildflowers.

Shortly after we began, my daughter made a perfect find:

Wild blueberries for Our Lady's blue!

Yum! So tiny, but so delicious!

Then, while the girls kept on searching for wildflowers...

...building tiny bouquets...

..the boys went on ahead and found grapes - albeit sour grapes, which reminded us that in some places, like Armenia, they specifically bless grapes on this day.


In Old Testament times, grapes had a special place of honor and were considered the “first fruits”, so special services of thanksgiving were conducted by priests in the temple.
With the birth of Jesus, the dedication took on a new meaning: Jesus Christ was the first born—or the first fruit—of Mary and, as such, was offered to God in the temple. (Luke 2:25-30
Since Mary is seen as the image of humanity fully obedient to God and ultimately sanctified by doing God’s will, as we remember her falling asleep in Christ and Assumption into heaven, we celebrate the blessing of grapes.

Then, we went back to my friend's house to pray the Blessing of the Herbs and Flowers.

As we prayed, we blessed her gardens with Holy Water.

Then, we went inside to make small Marian vases.

Once these were made, we each picked out wildflowers and places them in our vases as we prayed the Assumption decade of the rosary.

Finally, as a break from free play the yard and pool, we enjoyed our simple tea, with "Mary in the Heavens"...

...grapes, which are traditional on this day, as well as herbed tomato salad, because herbs are traditional, too...

..."Blueberry heaven"...

...herb-infused waters (again, for the herb traditions of this day)....

...white casein-free "ice cream" (for purity and the sweet love of God), plus a good helping of silliness...

...and plenty of blessed beauty smiles!

It was a lovely celebration!

More Ideas

We hope this look back at our observances of the Assumption of Mary inspire celebrations for you and yours this year!

If you'd like more inspiration, feel free to browse former sharing at:

Celebrate the Assumption of Mary with Food, Fun, and Fellowship

Celebrate the Assumption of Mary through Fun and Food!

Plan for An Assumption Day Playdate - A Round Up

A Simple Assumption Celebration for the Sick

Our Assumption Day Tea – A Day Full of Moments of Grace

Mother Mary, pray for us.


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