While the Boys are Away…

The first few days of this week were a little different around here, mostly because all the ‘men’ were away on the annual ‘men’s camping trip’. Meri and I had movie night, ate too much popcorn, and worked on a giant baby to-do list. Although we didn’t really make a dent in the list, we did get many things done, and had fun doing them. I finally repainted our bedroom, and hung up some art. We built the co-sleeper and put a headboard on the bed. bedroomAmerica was a huge help in organizing all the baby clothes by type, which is wonderful because up until now they have all just been jumbled into the wardrobe with no rhyme or reason. We packed the baby’s hospital bag, as well as mine! wardrobeThe big news is that we are scheduled for an induction on September 8th, one week from today. I am truly hoping that she just decides she is done ‘cooking’ before that, since the idea of being induced is something that I do not relish. At least I know that it won’t take longer than one more week, which is a comfort because all of a sudden, everything hurts and is exhausting. mantisWe caught a praying mantis for the boys to examine after camping. He is gigantic, and seems fairly angry, but at the same time, he is fascinating. Our first Art & Science lesson is on insect anatomy, and the ‘scientist as illustrator’, so the timing is perfect!meri ice creamMeri and I also exercised some of our most important skills in the kitchen, and made ice cream.

Our book orders have been rolling in, and I have been typing syllabuses like a madwoman. I think there are only one or two left to complete, and then I can just sit back and fill in my teacher’s plan book with a cup of coffee!

Today was the first day that the end of summer seemed like it was getting closer, although I still haven’t smelled an autumn morning yet. I’ll believe it when it gets here. Until then, it’s shorts, and swimming, ice cream and sprinklers…after our studies of course!

Hanging up our pull down map, Shelley


A New Year on the Horizon

Over the last few months we have been pushing to finish our work for the 2015-2016 school year. There are about 5 science lessons to go, and a few odds and ends for the younger kids, while Vegas has a full summer of Algebra and Biology to chip away at. At the beginning of this last year, I planned for working through the summer, and I am so glad I did. The stress of finishing everything by June is gone, and an easier pace has allowed for us to go on several unplanned field trips, and work on household skills that might have been pushed aside otherwise.

The natural product of one year ending, is to think about the next year, and to begin planning for it. Having our struggles and successes fresh in mind as I am looking through potential textbooks is key to choosing wisely for each child. I recently read through For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay and was struck by how different our American education system is from how a child’s mind actually learns or processes. I was challenged to change my mentality from a segmented, goal oriented, test based plan to a long-range, whole child, preparing for life, holistic approach.

The book that has been the most successful this year with the younger kids has been Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding, by Bernard J. Nebel. Because of it’s popularity within our family, I ordered Nebel’s Elementary Education, Creating a Tapestry of Learning, also by the same author. I was surprised to find his philosophy of learning and teaching to be so close to that of Charlotte Mason, who Susan Macaulay writes about in For the Children’s Sake. It was very satisfying to find two seemingly unrelated books that were in complete agreement.

With these books on my mind, I set about carefully reading through different reviews and samples from textbooks in all subjects.  Using the resulting books, I have been putting together a curriculum for the next few years that I hope will serve each child well. The goal being to build a broad structure of thinking, and consequently implementing those subjects into meaningful tools for life. I cannot put it as eloquently as these other authors, but what I can say is, I am excited to be thinking outside of the grade level box.

With that said, next year Vegas will be in 9th grade, Elvis in 4th, Axel in 1st, and Meri in PreK.

By age.

Each child has areas of exellence that surpass that ‘grade level’, as well as areas that they are still working through. Rather than feel pressure to meet certain ‘normal’ levels across the board for each one, I am motivated to use those areas in a complimentary fashion, recognizing that each strength and weakness is part of a unique and wonderful person, who is exactly who they are meant to be.

I am hopeful to steer each child in the direction of mastery and passion that is particular to them, not create a ‘jack of all trades, and a master of none.’

Making extra coffee, Shelley

P.S. My next post will be a school supply and book list.


On the Move


{on the move is one of our favorite records to listen to while working….}

Things are beginning to take shape around here, due largely to the generous support of the go fund me page we set up. In addition, my wonderful family in Seattle brought us grocery bags filled with things like notebook paper, and legos…teaching tools, pencils, and sketchbooks. We took our yearly summer ‘sort of stay-cation’ to Seattle last weekend, and it was fantastic.



Vegas was the only one to ever have ridden a ferry across Puget Sound before, {still, it was several years ago!} so right off the bat, we picked up my mom and headed west on the Tillamook towards Southworth. I managed a quick Craigslist stop in Port Orchard, and we drove north to Kingston and took the Walla Walla back to Edmonds.


{BTW~ that lady in the background was cracking us up! I was afraid she would get blown away!}

The weather was beautiful, the wind didn’t bite at our ears too much, and the vending machines were grossly overpriced! Yikes! $2.50 for a little bag of Sour Patch Kids, I felt like I might as well be going to the movies!



Later that night, some of us actually did go to the movies, and I am still processing what I think of the new Mad Max. Mostly, I feel like there were not nearly enough leather jackets, or awesome outfits.


Back on track.


Our trip also included a visit to the Burke Museum, Dick’s fries, Pagliacci Pizza, the most amazing gyro/gyro plate EVER from Mr. Gyro’s {if you haven’t been, go! It is amazing. Greenwood & 85th},Pike Place Market, The University Book Store, Byrnie Utz Hats,  Carkeek Park, thrift stores, hair appointments, the Fremont Troll, and an epic rainstorm.


We packed our car full of art supplies, books, binders, ideas, and memories. I came home with a much more specific book list, and began ordering curriculum today. In the mail {for Vegas} already, is Harold Jacobs Elementary Algebra, which is an exciting step off the beaten path for us, we’ve been sticking to the tried and true Saxon math for the last few years, but I am excited for this text. Also, {for Vegas} Windows to the World, which is a literary analysis course…right up his alley. In the next order I will have the math and language arts books for Elvis and Axel, as well as magna doodles for Axel and America to practice Handwriting.


Soon after that order, will come the order with all the knives, ropes, knot tying books, field guides and nature handbooks.  {that will be the hardest to keep simple!}


Vegas starts Orchestra at the local middle school this Friday, which is completely crazy to me, but I think it will be fun!


School will start for us on the 15th, even though I am sure some of the books won’t be here yet. It will be a soft start, so to speak, getting the routine down, figuring out how to get Vegas to orchestra and back, etc.


On the back burner, I am considering joining the Wild Explorer’s club, {or starting my own club, just for the merit badges}. Anyone know where to get patches made?

Trying to eek every inch out of my tiny office area, Shelley 

The Beginning of the End

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So, while Portland Public schools are having their last day assemblies, and awards are being given, we are packing*. The end of the school calendar year is here, but we are not finished with our books. This winter and spring has been a string of breaks, interruptions, trips, and life changes that have pushed back our classwork into the summer. I am not worried about it at all, because honestly, it’s good to have things to do during the summer, and I think I am moving more towards a year round school model anyway.


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The big goals will be completing math, language arts, science, and history. Elvis is nearly done with math, finished with science {so he has taken on a few extra books, you know, just for fun}, and since I didn’t like his language arts book at all this year, I am just starting over next year. History we will all do together in July and August, since it is just reading. I imagine us on a blanket, out in our big backyard, with snacks and sketchbooks, reading about the civil war. I’ll let you know if that actually happens.

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Vegas has about half his math still to do, {debate took away like his whole school year}, and we cut his language arts book in half, so he’s done with that, other than quizzes and tests. He is also only one chapter away from finishing his science book.

All in all, I think we are in good shape to finish up by the end of August, take a couple of weeks off to travel, and then hit the books all over again in September.

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The boys both had testing done this year, anticipating the required testing that happens next year at the end of 3rd and 8th grade. I thought it would be a good idea to see where they were at now. They both scored well, Elvis did better than I thought he would, given that it was his first testing experience, ever. They were both happy with how it went, which was great! I don’t care too much for standardized testing, but it is a good skill to have, and good to follow the system that is in place, the same system that gives us so much freedom to learn how we see fit.


Vegas and Elvis also had their end of the year PYP {Portland Youth Philharmonic} recitals. Elvis was the youngest in his class, and much of the material was beyond him, but I am so proud of the way he stuck with it. At the performance, there were times that he got lost, but he listened to the other percussionists, and jumped back in, playing his parts very well, and maintaining a great stage presence. Elvis is also taking private drum lessons, and he moved on to the second book of exercises, and is working on some new hi-hat skills. It has been a joy to see him go from where he was at the beginning of the year, not knowing anything, to now. He is definitely a drummer. He had the chance to play some street bucket drums, and we realized that a bucket drum set is a necessity! It uses different rhythms, and skills. But, it’s pretty cool! Elvis has wanted to perform on the street for a while, so this was a big deal for him.


Vegas did an amazing job at his recital too- he has grown leaps and bounds as a musician this year, and I think double bass suits him! We love hearing him practice. He was also the best dressed at the recital, by far. He will take a few private lessons over the summer, and then next year he plans to attend Floyd Light Middle school for orchestra, with his cousin Lia, so he will have the experience of playing in a big group. While I am a little nervous about it, I am very excited too.


*This month we are moving, so packing is in full swing. Everything is getting boxed up, and nobody can find anything. Hopefully by this time in July, we will be all settled in our new old house, {we are moving back across town to our first Portland house, a little 50’s ranch}, unpacking and setting up our new schoolroom.


Next week the kids take a week of swim lessons, to determine which class they should be in, and then hopefully we can get them all into regular lessons. Later in the summer, Vegas and Elvis will start fencing. Vegas has fenced before, and loves it, but it will be the first time for Elvis. Fencing is one of the Harmon Academy’s official sports. Archery and swimming are the others…so far. I would like to add horseback riding, but that can be a little expensive.

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Elvis is also attending summer camp for the first time ever this year, as well as a week-long day camp with Oregon Children’s Theater, learning the basics of stage acting. As I am writing this, I am realizing how incredibly packed the summer is, and we haven’t even thought about getting together with anyone, or getting out-of-town! Not to mention, I need to plan the next school year!


I will keep you posted on our late work progress, camps, and lessons as they happen.


Finishing up another Nature Exchange,


Right Around the Corner

We have exactly two weeks left of summer. Two weeks to gather the rest of our school supplies, to decide on books and courses, to prepare uniforms and get haircuts. Two weeks to enjoy the sweltering Portland heat. Fourteen days isn’t really a long time, especially when you factor in weekend visits, family activities, church meetings, bedtimes, dinners, laundry foldings, and regular life that happens. It’s not much time to find a new computer, or finish cleaning out the basement. Its not enough at all, 4

Somehow, whether or not I get each thing done, the days will slip by me and September third will greet me with that amazing smell in the morning air. The smell of back-to-school, of shopping at the Gap for sweaters, and of new notebooks. Fall and everything it includes can be bitter sweet. There are promises of a new start, new things to learn, new things to experience, as well as promises of dark and dreary days where it seems that time has stopped, and everything in the world is 2

This fall we are setting out into the unknown, much like so many men and women before us who have begun new adventures. Our family actually has no idea where we will be six months from now, or where life will take us. It’s an adventure, right? My husband is done with his degrees here in Portland around Christmastime, and after that? We will wait to see with anticipation, and probably sometimes dread, but regardless, history is being made at the Harmon Academy. The history of us, and we will have stories to tell!

The Harmon Academy is growing, from two students to four this year! We are excited to welcome a satellite school in East Portland, with one student, as well as moving our youngest up into a pre-K program this year, we will have four officially in books.

  • So far,  our class catalog for fall includes:
  • US History
  • Algebra 1
  • Math 2
  • Matter and Motion Science
  • Entomology
  • Biology
  • Art History and Artist Studies
  • Art Fundamentals
  • Grammar
  • Handwriting/cursive
  • Geography and Cartography
  • Independent studies on Shorthand and Linguistics
  • Sewing and Home Economics
  • Woodshop
  • PE
  • We will also be going through a book on prayer, as well as the Operation World calendar, which will serve as a wonderful overview of the countries of the world, in addition to working out what we learn practically in the prayer book.
  • Book lists are still being compiled!
  • The Pre-K program will include:
  • Pre-reading
  • Math Manipulatives
  • Art Fundamentals
  • Biology and Entomology
  • PE
  • Sewing and Home Economics
  • The East Portland school will also be including:
  • World History

As the summer comes to a close, our classroom is slowly taking shape. Maps of the eastern US, whole country maps, maps of Asia and Europe, timelines, hopefully a giant flag, and possibly individual student desks will be included in what has been our dining room. We usually end up eating in the kitchen, and when guests come, they spread out around the house. The wood paneling in the dining room makes me feel like we are attending Charles Xavier’s School for the Gifted.

You can expect posts from some of the students this year as well!

Sincerely Yours,


***The Harmon Academy will gladly accept donations of school supplies, books, navy blue sweaters, stickers, fruit snacks, fun letters in the mail, or anything else you may feel like helping out with! This will be a skin of the teeth year for us, as we will be living on an extremely restricted income. For more information, you can email me here: