Crafts: A Mess Worth Making


When I first had kids, I was committed to having a fabulous, craft-filled home. I strongly believed that children learn best when they engage their hands as well as their heads. In my childhood home, we had an unfinished basement with an old table and shelves overflowing with leftover fabric and yarn, beads, paint and paper. Old shoe boxes and spice boxes were saved because there was no telling what kind of house you could make for your small toys with them. As a kid, it had seemed like an Aladdin’s Cave filled with treasures and things yet imagined. As a young mom, I had visions of recreating these same delights for my children.

Naively, I thought these creative childhood outlets would occur in a simultaneously neat, clean, organized home. With childhood blindness, I seemed to remember my childhood home as being perfectly neat at all times! I was sure that if I just required my children to clean up after themselves, our home would also remain a perfect oasis of neatness.

But, somehow, those adorable babies of mine grew into active toddlers and then school-age children. Even as they have grown, they have yet to fully embrace my standards of neatness and tidiness. They delight in messes and when I tell them to clean up, they look around blankly at all the things scattered across the floor and ask, “What mess?” Add in homeschooling and it feels like there is always something out of place!

Fortunately, principle has won over my naive ideas of a perfect home. I accept that having a rich learning environment means there will be a certain amount of mess. Even on the best days when everything looks ready for company, there will still be a clay creation drying on the counter, a new painting hung on the refrigerator, or the most beautiful shoe box doll house sitting on a bedroom floor.

One of the strongest forces that has changed my perspective of crafts and messes was my second-born daughter. She lives life in each moment to the fullest! She loves a good, hands-on mess. She has a hard time sitting still to read her phonics book, but pull out clay, beads, and glitter glue and she will make an amazing creation. I have to adjust our learning environment so that school does not become drudgery to her, empowering her to learn in the ways that she learns best. As her mom, I get to embrace her God-given personality and adjust our home environment in small ways so that she can grow to be the best person God has made her to be.Making the Nile River diorama

As I have made those adjustments, I have come to realize how much hands-on learning benefits my other children as well. They are growing and developing better as students because I am creating a richer learning environment.

As I began to plan for more messy learning activities, a friend and I decided to get together for a small co-op. With a weekly meet-up in place, it was a lot easier to make sure I planned history activities. With five kids all excited about a craft, I couldn’t skip a week! The increased kid-to-parent ratio on our co-op days also forced me to choose crafts that did not need high parental involvement. The older kids had to be able to do the project on their own. Over the past few months, we have made some amazing messes, and have learned so much along the way.Making Papyrus

With all that I have learned personally, I have not suddenly become an amazing crafter.  I still dislike mess, and the hands-on learning activities that we do are NOT picture perfect. We allow the kids to make their own creations, including their own mistakes! Although the activities are based in history, the kids will still add their own flair. I am pretty sure glitter glue was not added to clay lamps in Biblical times, but the kids love adding their own touches!

On this section of the blog, I am going to post the occasional craft that shows what “good enough” looks like for us. These are not Pinterest-perfect crafts, but each time, my kids have loved the project and learned through doing, so I have accomplished my goals. I hope that these crafts will give you vision to add some hands-on activities into your home, even if you, also, are not a crafty mom! In our home, we have found that these projects truly are a mess worth making.

The Simple Task of Planning for the Grammar Levels

simple-planning for the grammar levels
     I enjoy back-to-school planning. I feel like I have the whole year ahead of me to watch my kids learn and a chance to re-set anything that didn’t work well from the year before. I have found that planning for the Grammar level student is a simple task. When I prepare the year goes much more smoothly!

I make my planning session a date with myself.

Before the new school year begins, my husband takes the children for a Saturday afternoon while I head off to a favorite coffee shop. I bring all my planning supplies, Tapestry DE, school books that I want to look through, and my calendar. I order my favorite coffee and enjoy the quiet. If seasons are busy and I can’t get out, I simply make coffee at home, put on a movie for the children and I get down to it!

I begin by writing down my homeschool goals for the year.

If I don’t have my priorities clearly in mind, I will be more likely to attempt too much or get discouraged when it seems we are accomplishing too little. Because my husband and I spend time casually over the summer discussing our goals for each child, I have a pretty good idea in my head of what I hope for each of them over the school year. Writing it down helps solidify it and allows me to look back when I need a reminder. Here is one worksheet that might help you plan goals for your year.

I have one child in Upper Grammar, one in Lower Grammar, and one who is a preschooler. My Upper Grammar student is a strong reader and loves stories.  She loves to read to learn, but still needs help going back to her books to research an answer. My Lower Grammar student is a kinesthetic learner. I am still reading aloud all her books to her, with my preschooler listening along with us.

At this stage in our schooling I have chosen to cover history, literature, some church history, and geography from the Tapestry subjects. I have also added writing for my Upper Grammar student this year.

For Lower Grammar, my goal is to introduce my daughter to a historical time period. I want her to appreciate the daily life of those living during that time and to understand the geography of the places we are studying in relation to the rest of the world. I want her to realize that these were real people and for her to enjoy the similarities and differences between her life and theirs. I delight when I see her eyes light up with interest about the size of the pyramids and how she listens eagerly to a story about a little boy living in ancient Egypt.

I want my Upper Grammar student to go on reading to learn and to improve her reading comprehension. I want to choose books that will fire her imagination and allow her to re-enact new stories. At the same time, my goal is that the things she reads make her think outside her own little world and ponder why people do what they do.

I have to remember that repetitive learning frees me to leave things out.

I can relax and enjoy the grammar-level learning process because Tapestry is a cyclical program. I will come back to these topics when they are older, so I don’t have to overload my schedule on our first pass through history.

After having considered my goals for each child, I determine which history and literature books at the Upper Grammar level to include, and which I plan to skip. I take into account my Upper Grammar daughter’s interests, or if I think a specific book will overwhelm her. For instance, because of my daughter’s love for princesses, last year I replaced a pioneer boy literature selection with the Lower Grammar literature choice of a story of Rapunzel. She was thrilled with that decision!

After choosing books, I highlight the assignments in Planning Aids and print out whichever literature worksheets go with the books I have chosen for the unit.

Because I will read aloud to my Lower Grammar student I know I will get a good understanding of the things my students are learning without having to do much extra reading. I will also be positioned to engage with my children as they share exciting tidbits that are brand-new to them!


Now that I am adding writing with my Upper Grammar student, I also look through those assignments. During my coffee date I looked through the whole year of writing and realized that at her fourth grade level she is simply working on good paragraph construction for the whole year. Knowing that, I decided that if I didn’t think a writing prompt on a particular week would spark her interest, I could look at the assignments one level up and one level down from her grade without losing anything she should be learning.


For geography I keep my children’s work very simple. We look at the places listed in that week’s geography on a globe and in an atlas so that they start to understand where things were happening in the world. I have the MAPpacks so I don’t have to print up any maps and I give my girls a fun “drawing” project on the maps. They color, trace, paint, or outline their map which is sufficient right now for them to learn basic landmarks.

I have been surprised how simple Tapestry planning can be. Once I know my goals and desires, the planning naturally flows from that. Adding in the coffee date definitely adds to the fun of school planning! And I love to see how my children are getting a wonderful, rich learning experience because I am prepared at the beginning of their year.

Finding Books in the Library Using the Reading Assignment Charts

library-call-numbersThe Reading Assignment chart is an amazing document. It helps you see at a glance what all your children are reading on their level in a given week. But, not only does it have all the books and assignments listed, we have also filled it with all available library call numbers!Library call numbers

We all know a good library system is an invaluable resource, but finding the right books can take time. With the library call numbers listed, if you are heading to the grocery store and have five minutes to dash into the library, you can head straight to the right shelf and see if they have the book you need to finish this week’s assignments.

At the grammar levels the call numbers help tremendously because those books are easily substituted for another book. If you are looking on the library shelves for a book on ancient Egypt and they don’t have the one Tapestry assigned, you will already be near the right shelves and can grab a similar book to substitute instead!

This means that your next trip to the library can be as fast or as leisurely as you want it to be!